/ 12 March 2007

Morocco probes possible militant suicide attack

Morocco said on Monday it was investigating whether an overnight blast was a militant suicide attack after a man with explosives under his clothes was blown up and three others were wounded at a Casablanca internet cafe.

The Sunday night blast occurred in the commercial capital’s Sidi Moumen slum, home to 13 suicide bombers who killed 32 people in Casablanca in 2003. Sunday was the third anniversary of train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people.

Morocco, on high alert after a string of bomb attacks last month in neighbouring Algeria, has said it had information about an al-Qaeda plot to mount an attack but that the circumstances of the internet cafe blast were not clear.

Government security officials in the North African country said the man had a dispute with the internet cafe’s owner and that the explosion occurred as the two men were coming to blows.

”We do not know whether the explosion was a suicide bombing or the explosive device went off inadvertently during the dispute,” said one official, asking not to be identified.

”The man used to come to view jihadist websites and the dispute was prompted by the internet cafe owner’s decision to prevent him this time from viewing such propaganda material,” said the official.

Another man at the scene who attempted to flee was arrested by police and was being questioned.

”The investigation is continuing and we hope the arrested man will talk and clarify more the matter, including whether the man with the explosives planned a bomb attack elsewhere,” said the official.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility by militants for any attack in Casablanca.

Security forces cordoned off the area as police sifted through the blast scene for clues, witnesses said.

Governments in North Africa fear violence may spill over from Algeria after the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat renamed itself al-Qaeda organisation in the Islamic Maghreb with the aim of fusing similar Islamist groups groups together.

Last week, security sources said police had arrested the head of the military wing of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG).

Police suspect Saad Houssaini (38) of involvement in the 2003 Casablanca bombings and the 2004 Madrid bombings. Only the narrow Strait of Gibraltar separates Morocco from Spain.

Security experts believe the MICG is one of the small militant factions to have joined the al-Qaeda group.

Security sources said police were hunting for suspected al-Qaeda members who may have infiltrated from Algeria.

Morocco has backed the United States-led war against terrorism launched after the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States. – Reuters