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Bombs kill at least 20 in downtown Casablanca

Official news agency: Three arrested in connection with blasts

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A man walks past a restaurant and charred car in Casablanca after explosions tore through the area.

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CASABLANCA, Morocco (CNN) -- Five explosions, including three car bombs, rocked the heart of Casablanca on Friday night, killing at least 20 people and injuring several others, according to Morocco's interior minister.

Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel blamed international terrorists for the attacks and said some were committed by suicide bombers.

Three people were arrested in connection with the explosions, reported the country's official news agency, Maghreb Arab Presse (MAP).

Among the targets hit were those representing Belgian, Spanish and Jewish interests.

"This is part of the terror we're facing all over the world," said a spokesman for the northwestern African country's Interior Ministry.

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Four bombs ripped through downtown Casablanca (May 16)
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No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Thursday was the anniversary of the creation of Morocco's security forces, said Morocco TV journalist Mustapha Kelu, and many police officers and other law enforcement officials were on vacation.

The bombs went off about 9:30 p.m. [5:30 p.m. EDT] in different places in the city renowned for its Western way of life, the government spokesman said. Police and ambulances rushed to the scene as army helicopters hovered overhead.

"There were bodies mutilated all over the place," one witness said. "Everybody is very shocked."

Official news agency: Three arrested in connection with blasts

Three booby-trapped cars exploded in front of the Belgian consulate, according to MAP, and another bomb exploded near Casa De Espana, a Spanish social club and restaurant. Spain was an ally of the United States and Britain in the war against Iraq; Belgium was not.

Didier Seeuws, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Affairs Office, said one side of the consulate "was completely demolished." He said no one inside the building was killed, but two Moroccan guards died.

"There have been many deaths in the streets," he said.

Seeuws said it was unclear if the Belgian Consulate was the target or a popular restaurant near it. He said there had been no threats against the consulate.

"It's a big shock," he said.

A bomb was also reported near the Hotel Safir and the Cercle de l'Alliance Israelite.

A spokesman for the Conseil des Communautes Israelites du Maroc -- a Jewish community organization -- told CNN that a Jewish nightclub was one of the targets, but the club was empty at the time.

"It was closed for Shabbat," he said. "But the doors, the windows and the ceiling were all destroyed.

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Police officers stand outside Casablanca's Hotel Safir in the wake of several fatal explosions.

"We heard the explosions," he said. "I was afraid. We all went into the streets."

The blasts in Morocco come days after triple car bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 25 people, plus the nine bombers.

In Washington, U.S. officials said the White House is watching as events develop.

"The White House is looking into it, monitoring the situation, but it's too soon to comment," a White House official said. "The details are still coming in."

A senior administration official noted that the United States has an embassy in Rabat and a consulate in Casablanca.

"They've seen the reports," the senior administration official said.

When asked whether there was any indication Americans or Westerners were targeted, the senior administration official said, "It's too soon to say."

Last year, three suspected al Qaeda operatives -- all Saudis -- were arrested in Casablanca on suspicion of planning to bomb U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar. They were sentenced this year to 10 years in prison for their roles in the plot.

Another man and four women arrested in the same raid were sentenced to one year in prison on lesser charges.

Casablanca is Morocco's largest city, with a population of more than 3 million, mostly Sunni Muslims. The Atlantic Ocean seaport is known for its textiles and tourism, and as a financial center.

Morocco is slightly larger than California. It is considered a moderate Arab state and a U.S. ally.

Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and was among the first to denounce the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, according to the U.S. State Department.


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