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Casablanca again rocked by suicide bombers

Two suicide bombers walked into the middle of a street in Casablanca on Saturday and blew themselves up, an Interior Ministry official said. The bombers were killed and a woman was injured, he said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two brothers strapped with explosives blew themselves up near the U.S. consulate Saturday and Moroccan officials said they had discovered a broader suicide bombing conspiracy, stoking new fears of increased terrorism by Islamic extremists in this American-allied kingdom.

Aside from the bombers killed, only one woman was injured, authorities said.

Police arrested three people — one wearing an explosive belt — near the scene of the attack in an upscale Casablanca neighborhood dotted with high rises and diplomatic missions, an Interior Ministry official said.

Investigators found a second, undetonated explosives belt nearby, next to the four-star El Kandara Hotel, the official said on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy.

Both the unexploded belts appeared to match the remnants of belts worn by three men who blew themselves up Tuesday after fleeing a police raid on their hideout, the official said.

Recent blasts have shattered a calm in place since an unprecedented crackdown brought the detention of thousands of suspected Islamic extremists, who were arrested after five suicide bombings in May 2003 killed dozens of people.

"These networks want to send a message that they still have the initiative to carry out attacks and they can choose the place," said Mohamed Darif, an expert on Islamic extremism.

Warnings in Algeria
In neighboring Algeria, the U.S. Embassy warned of possible attacks in that nation's capital, Algiers, saying the central post office and national television headquarters were potential targets.

A group calling itself al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks Wednesday on the Algerian prime minister's office and a police station that killed 33 people and wounded 200.

A Casablanca police officer said he saw one of Saturday's attackers, clad in jeans, heading toward the U.S. consulate and asked for his identification. Seconds later, an explosion thundered, the officer told the French television station TF1.

One woman was wounded by the first blast, but the second blast soon after killed only the bomber.

Hamid Benyahia, owner of the Beverly Ice Cream shop beside the consulate, said he heard both blasts.

"At 8:45 a.m. I was sitting here and I heard an explosion, very loud, next to the American consulate," he said, adding that he heard a second explosion 10 seconds later by the American Language Center, which provides English-language training near the consulate. "I didn't see anything, just lots of smoke."

The U.S. Embassy and the consulate could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bombers identified
Citing police, the official MAP news agency identified the two bombers as Mohamed Maha, born in Casablanca in 1975 and not previously known to police, and his brother Omar Maha, born in 1984 and sought by police in earlier bombings in the northern city.

MAP also said police had arrested the leader of the group responsible for the bombers killed during Tuesday's confrontation with police and for a suicide bomb attack that killed four people last month at an Internet cafe.

Police found hideouts holding materials indicating bombs were put together there and also contained information on the identities of more terror suspects, the agency said, without providing further details.

In Algeria, state radio and television reported that authorities had identified one of Wednesday's three reported suicide bombers.

The Arabic-language newspaper El Khebar identified the man as Merouane Boudina, 23, one of 10 brothers and sisters from a poor neighborhood in southern Algiers. Both El Khebar and the French-language daily Liberte, which gave a slightly different name, said he had been in and out of jail for drug trafficking.

Liberte said the young man began to pray and frequent extremist Islamic circles six months ago and dropped out of contact with friends and family three months ago.

Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa formerly went by the name of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, but declared an official link with al-Qaida at the start of the year. The group was created in 1998, six years after Islamic insurgents began fighting to topple Algeria's secular government.