RABAT (Reuters) - At least 12 would-be suicide bombers planned to blow up foreign ships at Casablanca port and other Moroccan landmarks, top security officials were quoted as saying on Thursday.
They said at least six of the suspected bombers were still on the run, but others were arrested after their presumed leader blew himself up on March 11 to stop police taking him alive.
Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa, his deputy Fouad Al Himma and Benabdallah Oumzazi, a top ministry official, briefed local newspaper editors on Tuesday night on what the media called a “lucky accident” that helped foil a mass bombing plot.
Abdelfattah Raydi, the 23-year suspected leader of the group of bombers, walked into an Internet cafe in Casablanca’s Sidi Moumen slum on March 11 with another suspected bomber.
Raydi, who had worn an explosives belt for four days to avoid police catching him alive, detonated the device when the cafe owner shut the door and called authorities after he saw him consulting a jihadist Web site, newspapers said.
The papers quoted officials as saying the attacks were not scheduled for March 11, but gave no more details.
Youssef Khoudri, a 18-year-old mint seller who was accompanying Raydi, was wounded and arrested by police. Both lived in Douar Escuela, Casablanca’s poorest slum.
“Investigations showed that 12 suicide bombers among 30 terrorists linked to March 11’s Casablanca plot were prepared to attack economic and security targets including blowing up foreign ships at Casablanca port and tourism facilities in Marrakesh, Essaouira and Agadir,” wrote al Ahdath al Maghribia daily. The three cities are Morocco’s main tourist destinations.
The Arabic-language newspaper cited among other targets unspecified security facilities in Casablanca, where suicide bombers killed 45 people in 2003.
The papers also quoted officials as saying the would-be bombers planned to use “poison” in their planned attacks, showing a change in the country’s home-grown terror.
Al Ahdath said the “poison” was a byproduct of tetanus pathogenic bacteria and quoted Himma as saying: “That is an indication of the shift in the terrorist plans”. He did not elaborate.
Raydi, who was sentenced to five years’ jail in 2003 under anti-terrorism legislation and was granted a royal pardon in 2005, had built up a network of 30 people, most of them his neighbors, for the plot since last November, the papers said.
The main business daily L‘Economiste said authorities were hunting “six suicide bombers”, but Annahar daily said “12 suicide bombers are in the run”.
Officials said at least 24 people suspected of links to Raydi’s ring were detained after the arrests of 223 people for questioning since March 11.