Casablanca bombs spark French interest in Al Qaida

Thursday, May 22, 2003

France has launched urgent security consultations with its North African allies in wake of the Al Qaida suicide strikes in Morocco.

Western diplomatic sources said France wants to learn more of the Al Qaida bombings and whether the organization plans to launch attacks in Europe as well.

Morocco has arrested more than 30 people in wake of last week's suicide bombings in Casablanca, Middle East Newsline reported. One of those arrested was accused of being a suicide bomber who failed to detonate his explosive belt.

On Thursday, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy begins a tour of North African states as part of security consultations regarding Al Qaida threats to his country. Sarkozy arrives in Rabat for meetings with Moroccan officials.

From Rabat, Sarkozy will travel to Algeria and then Tunisia. His tour is expected to end by the weekend. The sources said Sarkozy's trip was arranged after the suicide bombings in Casablanca in which 34 people were killed on Friday.

"The level of terrorist threats in the world, confirmed by the recent attacks in Casablanca and Riyad, requires strengthened cooperation between countries," the French Interior Ministry said in a statement.

About 10 percent of France's population is Muslim, mostly from Algeria. Earlier this year, French officials reported that they foiled Al Qaida plots to attack targets in their country.

The French Interior Ministry statement said Paris did not have any evidence that the country has been a target of an insurgency attack. The statement did not say whether Paris had increased security measures after the Al Qaida strikes.

A French intelligence team has been in Morocco investigating the Al Qaida strikes. Both France and the United States were said to have assessed that the attacks in Casablanca and Riyad appear to be linked.

In Algiers, British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien held talks with Algerian leaders regarding a resumption of security ties between the two countries. Britain reduced military and security cooperation with Algiers in the early 1990s amid the Islamic insurgency war in the North African state.

Meanwhile, Egypt has bolstered internal security amid Al Qaida strikes in North Africa.

Egyptian officials said security authorities have stepped up arrests of suspected Islamic insurgents and their supporters. They said military troops and security forces have bolstered security around vital facilities in major Egyptian cities.

"The main worry is a strike against tourists or a strategic facility," an Egyptian security source said.

Officials said the reference was to U.S. and Western embassies and installations in Alexandria and Cairo. A major facility that could be a target, they said, is the Suez Canal, which contains heavy Western naval traffic.

Last week, Interior Minister Habib Adly reviewed security measures and priorities with senior officials. Adly ordered additional security measures throughout the country as well as increased coordination between his office and related agencies. They said security was also increased around prisons where Islamic insurgents were being held.

The aim, Adly said, was for Interior Ministry headquarters in Cairo to bolster its command and control abilities with security forces and facilities throughout the country. Islamic insurgents have often targeted Western and Christian targets outside Cairo.

The last major insurgency attack was in Luxor in 1997. About 70 tourists were killed in an attack attributed to the Gamiat Islamiya.

Officials said they were concerned over reports that Egyptians have participated in at least one of the recent Al Qaida attacks. They said an Egyptian national was captured in the Al Qaida suicide bombings in Morocco on May 16. An Egyptian national was also said to have participated in the Al Qaida strikes in Riyad last week.

Egyptian arrests have focused on the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Earlier this week, Egyptian authorities arrested 11 Brotherhood members in the Alexandria region.

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