Jews in Casablanca observed Sabbath, survived attack

Monday, May 19, 2003

CAIRO The Al Qaida attack on Friday killed 36 people in simultaneous suicide bombings in Casablanca, but missed its primary target of Israeli tourists and the resident Jews in Morocco.

Western diplomatic sources said victims of the 10 suicide bombings on late Friday were Moroccans as well as tourists from France, Italy and Spain.

The Al Qaida suicide bombers were believed to have been sent on a mission to target Israeli nationals and Moroccan Jews at a Jewish community center, a hotel frequented by Israeli tourists and a restaurant owned by a French Jew who lived in the kingdom.

But there were no Jews in any of the facilities, the sources said. They said most of the Jewish community in the city was at home in observance of the Sabbath.

In February, Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden released an audio tape in which he cited the North African kingdom as a target, Middle East Newsline reported.

Neither Israeli nationals nor Jews were killed in the attack, the sources said. They said not one of 15 synagogues in Casablanca was bombed. About 4,000 Jews live in Morocco, about half of them in Casablanca.

The attacks in Morocco were the bloodiest since Al Qaida's strikes in Saudi Arabia on May 13. The sources said Moroccan authorities had been bracing for an attack by Al Qaida or its aligned groups in the North African kingdom for about a year.

By Sunday, 33 people were arrested as suspects in the bombings. Moroccan officials said authorities suspected an Al Qaida-aligned group, Salfiya Jihadiya, of carrying out the attacks. They said 14 insurgents participated in the bombings and that one of them was captured. Officials said Morocco had arrested about 100 members of the group in raids conducted in 2002.

On Sunday, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily quoted a police official as saying that an Egyptian national and an Algerian citizen were detained as suspects in the attacks.

U.S. officials said the latest attacks could have been directed by Al Qaida leaders based in Iran. The officials said Al Qaida in Iran has ordered other strikes in Africa. Over the last week both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have expressed concern over Al Qaida operations in Iran. They did not elaborate.

Al Qaida's leading operative in Iran, officials said, has been identified as Seif Al Adil, a former security chief for Osama Bin Laden.

They said another Al Qaida operative is Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Abu Mohamed Al Masri, was also given safe haven in Iran.

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