Morocco: Casablanca attacks ordered by Al Qaida

Saturday, July 5, 2003

Morocco has determined that Al Qaida ordered and helped plan the May 16 suicide strikes in Casablanca in which more than 40 people were killed.

Moroccan officials and government sources said Al Qaida sponsored the suicide strikes as one of a series of attacks on pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East. They said the May 16 Casablanca attacks were linked to the car bombings in Riyad four days earlier.

Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Al Zarqawi
Moroccan security sources said an investigation of the May 16 suicide strikes has produced evidence that the attacks were ordered by Al Qaida operative Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Al Zarqawi, a Jordanian national wanted for the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Amman in 2002, was believed to have fled Baghdad for Iran during the first days of the U.S.-led war in March.

The assertion of an Al Qaida link to the Casablanca attack came as Saudi Arabia reported the killing of its leading insurgency fugitive, Middle East Newsline reported. The Saudi national, identified as Turki Nasser Mishaal Al Dandani, was said to have headed Al Qaida's network in Saudi Arabia.

The sources said Al Qaida had planned the Casablanca attack as the first of several suicide strikes in Moroccan cities. They said as many as 60 suicide attackers were recruited and trained to blow themselves up in such cities as Marrakesh, Sweir and Aghadir.

Moroccan authorities have reported the arrest of two suspected Islamic insurgents, one of them said to have been linked to the Al Qaida attacks in Riyad. Moroccan prosecutor Hassan Hufai said on Thursday that one of those detained was a teacher connected with whom he identified as Ahmed Karim.

Karim was arrested on charges of being part of the Al Qaida cell in Saudi Arabia and involved in the Riyad attacks.

Hufai said Karim ordered the two Moroccan nationals to travel to Saudi Arabia and undergo instruction in bomb production and weapons training. The prosecutor said Karim sent an e-mail message to the Moroccans that proposed the establishment of an Islamic insurgency network in the North African kingdom.

The Moroccan arrests marked the first official link between the Casablanca and Riyad bombings. Earlier, Moroccan and Saudi officials said they were examining a connection, but did not have sufficient evidence to make a determination.

In Riyad, the Saudi Interior Ministry said Al Dandani was one of four Al Qaida insurgents killed during a shootout with Saudi special forces on Thursday in the northern province of Jawf near the Iraqi border. The others killed were identified as two Saudis and two Kuwaitis.

Al Dandani was cited as the No. 1 fugitive in Saudi Arabia and believed to have headed Al Qaida's network in the kingdom. He was said to have fought with Al Qaida in Afghanistan in early 2002 and returned to Saudi Arabia five months later. Over the last six weeks, security forces have arrested about 130 suspected Al Qaida operatives as part of the search for Al Dandani.

Last week, Al Dandani's chief aide, Ali Abdul Rahman Al Ghamdi, surrendered to Saudi authorities in Riyad. Al Ghamdi was regarded as the No. 2 Al Qaida fugitive sought by the kingdom.

The ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency that five insurgents had taken refuge in the home of a mosque preacher. During the shootout, three other men two Saudis and a Syrian were captured, the ministry said. They were accused of attempting to smuggle the Al Qaida insurgents out of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi opposition sources said authorities obtained information nearly two weeks ago that Al Dandani was hiding in Jawf. They said Saudi forces raided a series of homes owned by those believed to be connected to either Al Qaida supporters or friends of Al Dandani.

The London-based Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia said Saudi security forces, backed by helicopters, attacked a mosque where Al Dandani was hiding. The opposition group said in a statement that many of the worshippers were still in the mosque when Saudi forces stormed the building.

The group said five Saudi officers were killed and seven others were wounded in the battle.

The Saudi news agency said security forces allowed the preacher, his wife, children, servant as well as a suspected Al Qaida member to surrender before the building was stormed. The agency said a Saudi officer was injured in the operation.

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