|The blast, which hit Marrakesh’s popular Argana cafe, claimed the lives of at least 11 foreigners [Reuters]|
An explosion in a busy cafe in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh has killed at least 11 foreigners and five Moroccans and wounded 21 others, according to Taib Cherkaoui, Morocco’s interior minister.
The blast on Thursday just before noon in the iconic Jamaa el-Fna square, a cultural heritage site that draws a million tourists a year, was Morocco’s deadliest attack in eight years.
Medical sources said eight of those who died in the blast were French, while a Dutch defence ministry official told AFP on Friday that a Dutch man died and two other nationals were seriously wounded in the attack.
Moroccan officials said on Thursday that they suspected the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.
“According to the information I have, it could have been perpetrated by a suicide bomber,” an official in the regional governor’s office told the AFP news agency.
“We found nails in one of the bodies,” added the official, who was in a hospital where some of the bodies were taken.
Rescuers were dispatched to the scene and an investigation was opened to provide details on the blast.
An official from the interior ministry said the blast appeared to be a terror attack, though the ministry had said earlier in the day, in a statement carried by the official MAP news agency, that “early evidence collected at the site (of the explosion) indicates that it was a criminal act”.
France condemned the blast as being “cruel and cowardly” and confirmed there were French casualties.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, learnt “with consternation of the terrorist attack,” his office said in a statement.
“He condemns with the greatest firmness this odious, cruel and cowardly act that has caused many casualties, including French citizens,” it said.
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, criticised “this barbaric terrorist attack that nothing can justify”, calling in a statement for “all light to be shed on this revolting crime, for those responsible to be found, tried and punished”.
Asked whether there was any current threat against French citizens in its former North African protectorate, Henri Guaino, Sarkozy’s adviser, said France “had nothing in particular to fear in Morocco at the moment”.
“Terrorism is something that we always fear… that reminds us to be extremely vigilant against this terrifying phenomenon,” Guaino told RTL radio.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “the United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s terrorist attack that killed and injured innocent people at a cafe in Marrakech, Morocco. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of this cowardly attack and stand with the people of Morocco at this difficult time.”
Germany, which said none of its citizens had been hit, urged that the attack “must not lead to the reform process that has been initiated in Morocco being undermined.”
The Argana cafe is a popular spot with tourists and ranks 21 on the Lonely Planet’s online list of ‘things to do in Marrakesh’.
“One of the few cafes where you’ll compete with locals for elbow room and a spectacular view of the [Jamaa el-Fna] at sunset, when the restaurant stalls set up shop and the belly dancers begin to wriggle,” the travel guide writes.
If confirmed as a terror attack, Thursday’s blast in Morocco would be the fourth such attack since 2003 when suicide bombers set off at least five explosions in Casablanca, killing 45 people, including 13 bombers.
In 2007, a series of suicide attacks took place in Casablanca between March and April, including an attack on the US diplomatic offices on April 14.