April 30, 2011 / 2:21 AM / 9 years ago

Marrakesh blast was remote-controlled bomb: France

PARIS (Reuters) - An explosion that killed 15 people in Marrakesh was triggered by a remote control device, not a suicide bomber as previous reports suggested, France’s interior minister said in an interview published on Saturday.

People chant slogans during a rally against terrorism in Morocco, after an explosion rocked Argana cafe in Marrakesh's Jamaa el-Fnaa square, April 29, 2011. Morocco was counting the cost to its vital tourism industry on Friday from the explosion at the busy Marrakesh cafe that killed 15 people in an attack described by the government as a terrorist act. Moroccan officials have not said who was responsible for the Thursday blast. The sign reads: "No, no, no to killing the innocent". REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

The blast on Thursday ripped through a popular cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Jamaa el-Fnaa square at lunchtime on Thursday. Western security analysts attributed the attack to Islamist militants bent on ruining Morocco’s tourism industry.

Two residents at the scene said they saw a suicide bomber. An Arabic news web site said the attack was committed by a suicide bomber who had recently got out of prison. But Moroccan officials have not said who was responsible.

“Contrary to what was being said earlier, there was no suicide bomber,” Claude Gueant told weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche. “Somebody dropped a bag on the ground and the bomb was detonated remotely.”

The bomb contained nails, ammonium nitrate and a high explosive called TATP that was also used in a series of bombings on the Paris underground system in 1995, he said.

The attack increased the challenges facing Morocco’s King Mohammed at a time when he is trying to prevent uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world from reaching his country, which is usually seen as a haven of stability in a volatile region.

Gueant said seven of the 15 dead were French nationals but that the attack was not aimed at France.

Moroccan officials said on Friday that they had identified seven foreigners among the dead including two French nationals, two Canadians, a Dutch national and two Moroccans.

“I have spoken to my Moroccan counterpart who explained that identification was difficult because some of the bodies were very badly damaged,” he said.

“The toll for now is 15 dead of which seven French people and about 10 injured including two very badly wounded.”

Moroccan officials said previously that 23 were wounded.

France has been on high alert for a terror attack over the past year after Islamist militants took five French nationals hostage in the Sahel region of Africa and al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden singled out France in an audio recording.

Stringent anti-terror laws have helped to avoid an attack on French soil since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. But militants are increasingly targeting French assets abroad, particularly in Africa.

Al Qaeda’s north African branch released messages this week from four French hostages it kidnapped last September in Niger calling for France to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan — repeating Bin Laden’s call.

Asked if France was targeted by the attack on Thursday, Gueant said: “Nothing suggests it.” But, he added, the attackers were aware of Marrakesh’s popularity with French tourists.

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