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Since 1st March, 1999
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Morocco blast focus on obscure group

Casablanca, May 18 (Reuters): Some of the 13 suicide bombers who killed 28 people in Casablanca are Moroccans linked to a little-known local radical Islamist group and came from abroad, Morocco’s justice minister said today.

The bombings on Friday prompted fresh warnings from US President George W. Bush that al Qaida remained a threat.

“Some of those recently came from a foreign country. However, they are Moroccan citizens,” the minister, Mohamed Bouzoubaa, told state television channel RTM.

Moroccan authorities had earlier singled out radical Islamists sympathetic to al Qaida as authors of the five almost simultaneous blasts against mainly Jewish and Spanish sites.

A 14th attacker was seriously injured and is being held in police custody. “He gave the information on his criminal accomplices and helped identify those who were involved in this operation,” Bouzoubaa said.

“They are linked to some elements who are currently being tried at the appeal court in Casablanca. Some indications suggest that they are linked to a group calling itself Assirat al Moustaquim,” he added.

Assirat al Moustaquim (The Righteous Path) is believed to be a splinter group of another radical organisation, Salafist Jihad.

Moroccan police rounded up 33 suspects yesterday, including some linked to the Salafist Jihad group. Five were still in custody today, government sources said.

One of Salafist Jihad’s main spiritual leaders, Ould Mohammed Abdelwahab Raqiqi, alias Abu Hafs, was jailed this year for inciting violence against westerners.

The 28-year-old cleric, who was among the Arab mujahideen in Afghanistan in the early 1990s, has expressed clear support for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and hailed al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as a hero.

Morocco and Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s birthplace, were among Muslim states listed as “most eligible for liberation” in a tape purportedly made by the al Qaida leader and broadcast in February. US officials say a link is plausible between al Qaida, believed responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on US cities, and the Morocco attacks.

The Casablanca attacks left around 100 people wounded, 14 of them seriously. Royal Palace spokesman Hassan Aourid called the Casablanca attacks “the work of blind international terrorism”.

But some commentators were doubtful about the suspected link to al Qaida. “If al Qaida is behind these raids, how come no American interests were targeted'” said Aboubakr Jamai, editor of Le Journal Hebdomadaire, a weekly often critical of the government. “The political dimension of the target is not obvious.”

A Jewish community centre, a Jewish-owned restaurant, a Spanish club and a Kuwaiti-owned hotel were among the civilian targets on Friday.

King Mohammed visited the Spanish club on Sunday. “His majesty has been informed how events happened,” Spain’s ambassador Fernando Arias Salgado said.

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