Thursday, April 28, 2011

Marrakech Blast - Latest Update

"We worked for more than an hour, maybe less, on the hypothesis that this could eventually be accidental. But initial results of the investigation confirm that we are confronted with a true criminal act." - Moroccan government spokesman Khalid Naciri

UPDATED (twice) FRIDAY 29th

TOLL NOW REACHES 16 DEAD - Also among the dead, a Dutch National. Two other Dutch citizens —a man and a woman—were seriously wounded in the attack accpording to the Dutch foreign ministry official Christophe Kamp. Two Canadians are also reported to have died.

Israel’s consul in Shanghai, Jackie Eldan, confirmed on Friday morning that a Jewish couple from Shanghai was murdered in Thursday’s terror attack at a café in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The two are 30-year-old Israeli Michal Weitzmann Zikri and her 32-year-old husband Mas'oud Zikri, a native of Morocco. The two traveled to Morocco with their son to visit Mas'oud’s family. They left the baby with his grandmother and went to Marrakesh, where they lost their lives. Earlier it was reported that the woman was in the fourth month of pregnancy.

Since the blast in the Argana Cafe at 11.55 this morning, there have been numerous conflicting theories circulating as to the cause of the blast. While the consensus is that it was a bomb, the method of delivery is still widely debated.

One witness who was inside the cafe but escaped unscathed said: “An individual entered, ordered an orange juice and a few minutes later blew himself up.”

But another witness, quoted by several Moroccan radio stations, said the bomber dropped a suitcase and immediately walked out of the cafe.

Latifa Idrissi, whose husband Yassine Bouzidi, 28, was one of the victims, said the blast occurred on the café’s terrace and badly injured the manager.

A medical source reported five women are among the dead.

Foreigners were among 16 people killed and 23 wounded in Djemma el-Fna in Marrakech in what the Moroccan government described as a criminal act. The toll includes six French nationals, one Briton, five Moroccans and three other foreigners of unknown origin. Confirming that there were French casualties, France condemned the blast as being "cruel and cowardly".

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, learnt "with consternation of the terrorist attack," his office said in a statement. "He condemns with the greatest firmness this odious, cruel and cowardly act that has caused many casualties, including French citizens," it said.

Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, slammed "this barbaric terrorist attack that nothing can justify", calling in a statement for "all light to be shed on this revolting crime, for those responsible to be found, tried and punished".

Asked whether there was any current threat against French citizens in its former North African protectorate, Henri Guaino, Sarkozy's advisor, said France "had nothing in particular to fear in Morocco at the moment. Terrorism is something that we always fear... that reminds us to be extremely vigilant against this terrifying phenomenon,"

According to Liz Gracon, a U.S. public affairs officer based in Casablanca, there were no U.S. casualties from the explosion.

Two residents in Marrakesh who were near the square told Reuters the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber, but there was no immediate confirmation of this. The first floor of the Argana Cafe bore the brunt of the damage while the ground floor was almost intact.

HM King Mohammed VI, ordered a speedy and transparent investigation into what he described as a “criminal explosion,”.

Security experts said the attack was in line with Islamist militants’ previous attempts—most of them disrupted by security services—to undermine Morocco’s rulers by targeting the tourism industry.

“I heard a massive blast. The first and second floors of the building were destroyed. Some witnesses said they have seen a man carrying a bag entering the cafe before the blast occurred.”- Witness

“Everything was covered in blood. The scene is horrifying, tables were broken and glass was shattered.” - Tarek Bozid, a 33-year-old photographer and Marrakesh resident

An official in the regional governor’s office told Agence-France Presse that initial information suggested that a suicide bomber could have perpetrated the blast.

“We found nails in one of the bodies,” added the official, who visited the hospital where some of the bodies were taken.

And an interior ministry official said that indications pointed to a terror attack on the Argana cafe in the Jamaa el-Fna Square, a favorite haunt of foreign tourists.

The square is recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site and it attracts thousands of tourists from inside and outside Morocco every day.

The fallout from the tragedy has been immediate. Morocco’s MADEX Free Float Index (MOSEMDX) slid 1.6 percent, the most since April 1, to 9,694.51 at the 3:30 p.m. close in Casablanca. The measure dropped as much as 3.5 percent earlier today.

Hotel and guesthouse booking agents and travel companies reported cancellations within hours of the blast. The roll-on effect is likely to have a major impact on Marrakech tourism. Other cities, such as Fez, Tangier and Casablanca, are liable to feel some impact but are considered safer destinations for tourists.

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