Morocco bomb investigators looking at Al-Qaeda

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A bomb in Marrakesh that killed 16 people was set off by a remote-control device and bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, a Moroccan minister said.

"The way in which this act was carried out reminds us of the style normally used by the Al-Qaeda organisation," Interior Minister Taeb Cherkaoui told reporters on Friday.

He also updated the death toll from 15 to 16, and said 13 of those killed had been identified: they were seven French nationals, two Canadians, two Moroccans, a Dutch national and a British national.

A medical source told AFP that the 16 dead in Thursday's explosion comprised eight French nationals, two Canadians, two Moroccans, a British man, a Dutchman, a Swiss man and a Portuguese man.

The British man was identified as Peter Moss, 59, from London, according to the Jewish Chronicle paper. The father of two was a writer, comedian and broadcaster, according to the London-based publication.

Another report in the Israeli media suggested that a 30-year-old pregnant Israeli woman and her husband, originally from Morocco, had been among the victims.

Earlier, Cherkaoui told deputies in Rabat: "Initial inquiries have shown an explosive product made up of nitrate and ammonium and two TATP explosives, and also with nails -- and the explosion was set off from a distance.

Triacetone triperoxyde, or TATP, is relatively easy to make and has surfaced in a number of recent investigations into attacks, including the July 2005 London bombings that killed 56 people and injured another 700.

Witnesses said the blast went off on the terrace of the Argana cafe, a popular tourist cafe in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh's main square, wrecking the facade and the first floor.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing since the attack took place. But a video posted on the Internet three days before the bombing and attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) included a threat to Morocco.

It showed five young men, armed, dressed in desert fatigues, their faces covered by the Arab headdress, or shemagh. AQIM has been active in countries in the region, notably carrying out a series of kidnappings for ransom.

Dutch tourist John Van Leeuwen told AFP he had looked the man believed responsible for the attack in the eyes moments before the blast.

"There were only tourists in the cafe, and three other Moroccans, and one guy that didn't initially look suspicious," Van Leeuwen told AFP by telephone as he waited, with Marjolein Appel, 39, to catch a flight home.

"But after we found out it wasn't a gas explosion, my girlfriend and I, we looked at each other, and said that must have been him.

The man had been carrying "two huge bags", and he thought he had left the cafe shortly after him and his girlfriend, he added.

Police created a photofit image of the alleged bomber based on their description and "it looks as if it's someone that is familiar to the police", said Van Leeuwen.

In his statement to parliament, Cherkaoui promised the attack would not stop the country's pursuit of democracy and respect for human rights.

There have been three protests since February to demand democratic reform, prompting King Mohammed VI to announce major political changes, including greater judicial independence.

In mid-April, the king pardoned political prisoners, including Islamists.

Members of the February 20 movement pushing for reform on Friday condemned the attack, but called for the government to press ahead with the promised changes.

French intelligence and anti-terrorism experts on Friday travelled to Marrakesh to help in the probe, a Moroccan official said. International police agency Interpol said it had offered its help.

Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States have also denounced the bombing, the deadliest in the North African monarchy since 33 people were killed by 12 suicide bombers in Casablanca in 2003.

Morocco depends heavily on tourism, with around 9.4 million tourists visiting the country in 2010, two million of them French.

© 2011 AFP

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