Tourists among 15 killed in Marrakech cafe bomb blast
Published 29/04/2011 | 05:00
A BOMB tore through one of Morocco's best-known tourist spots yesterday killing 15 people and injuring 20, in an attack that carried the hallmarks of Islamist militants.
Marrakech's famous Djemma el-Fna square, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its snake charmers and fire breathers, was packed at lunchtime yesterday when the explosion ripped through the popular Argana cafe.
The country's deadliest attack in almost a decade appeared to be the work of a suicide bomber after witnesses reported seeing a man carrying a bag walk into the cafe shortly before the blast.
It destroyed the second floor, ripping off the roof of the upstairs terrace and devastating the facade. Panic ensued as people rushed to put out the fire and drag the injured and bodies from the rubble.
"I went outside and saw smoke and got to the cafe and saw falling masonry," Hugo Somersham-Jones, a British hotel owner, said.
"We saw a number of limp, lifeless bodies being picked up by brave waiters and no doubt members of the public as well. So it's a pretty chaotic scene. My manager saw a lady who had lost an arm," he said.
The Ministry of the Interior said several nationalities were among the tourists and staff feared dead.
State television said that 10 of the dead were foreigners, including six French people.
Initially the authorities suspected an accident -- a fire amongst gas canisters in the building -- but swiftly changed the assessment. "Analysis collected at the site of the blast confirms the theory of an attack," the Interior Ministry said.
A government spokesman said it was too soon to say who was behind the attack, though Morocco has been the target of several plots by the North African branch of al-Qa'ida.
The country has largely been quiet since a series of terrorist bombs killed 45 people in Casablanca in 2003, but there have been sporadic attempts by suicide bombers. The Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group was linked to the Casablanca atrocities as well as the Madrid bombings a year later.
The large Argana cafe is popular with foreigners who want a prime spot on the famous square.
One businessman said: "You can't find a more emblematic target than Djemma el-Fna square. With this attack, tourism will hit the doldrums for some time." (Independent News Service)