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Moroccan officials: At least 27 detained in attacks

String of bombings kills dozens in Casablanca

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The terrace of the Casa de Espaņa restaurant in Casablanca was wrecked in the bombings.

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A series of blasts ripped through downtown Casablanca.
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CASABLANCA, Morocco (CNN) -- At least 27 men have been detained in connection with a string of bombings in central Casablanca, Moroccan officials said Saturday.

The five near-simultaneous attacks Friday night left 41 dead -- including at least 10 who took part in the attacks, Moroccan officials said.

Earlier reports said a man who planned to be a suicide bomber was also detained, but it's unclear whether his arrest is included in the number.

Those arrested were part of "Islamic circles" and were picked up in several locations around Morocco, the Interior Ministry said. Police said they believe 14 people took part in the five attacks, and most of those arrested are Moroccan nationals ages 18-22.

A security guard said two would-be bombers tried to enter the Hotel Farah.

One of the men stabbed and killed a security guard who had tried to stop him, then proceeded into the lobby, where he detonated his bomb, killing himself and a baggage handler, Magid Gharzani said.

That explosion incapacitated the second would-be bomber, who was captured by hotel guards and handed over to local police, Gharzani said. The bomber wore a belt lined with explosives as well as a backpack filled with them, Gharzani said. Officials said they were not able to determine his nationality.

Other targets included a Spanish social club, a Jewish cemetery, a Jewish community center and the Belgian Consulate.

More than 100 were injured in the blasts, said a statement from the country's official news agency, Maghreb Arab Presse (MAP).

U.S. officials said there were no reports of American casualties and no U.S. sites were struck, but the United States is assisting in the investigation.

Spokespeople for the community center and consulate said their buildings were empty at the time of the blasts.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombings.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said there is a "strong suspicion" that the al Qaeda terrorist network was behind the attacks because of the coordinated nature of the strikes and the tactics used.

Bin Laden critical of Morocco

In the past, al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has spoken of overthrowing the Moroccan government, which he considers too pro-American, CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen said. (Full story)

In a tape made public in February, a man bin Laden experts and U.S. officials believe to be bin Laden called on Muslims to "break free from the slavery of these tyrannic and apostate regimes, which is enslaved by America, in order to establish the rule of Allah on Earth. Among regions ready for liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, the country of the two shrines [Saudi Arabia], Yemen and Pakistan."

On Monday, a string of near-simultaneous car bombings struck Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing 25 people -- including eight Americans -- in addition to the nine suspected suicide bombers. U.S. officials believe al Qaeda was most likely responsible for the Riyadh attack.

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A doorman stands Saturday at the damaged entrance of the Hotel Farah.

During the past few days, the U.S. and British governments have warned of possible al Qaeda attacks in East Africa. (Full story) Morocco is in the northwest.

In a statement, President Bush said, "These acts of murder show, once again, that terrorism respects no boundaries nor borders. Casablanca is a city well-known for its tolerance and its diverse range of religious and ethnic communities. These acts demonstrate that the war against terror goes on."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a statement condemning "in the strongest possible terms the despicable terrorist bombings" and extending condolences to the victims' families.

"The United States of America and the Kingdom of Morocco have had a long and enduring friendship for more than two centuries," the statement read. "We deeply appreciate the leadership shown by King Mohamed VI and the Kingdom of Morocco in the international campaign against terrorism, and the United States of America will continue to stand together with Morocco against this threat to both our nations and all peace-loving people."

The bombs struck about 9:30 p.m. [5:30 p.m. EDT] Friday in Morocco's largest city. Most of the victims were Moroccans, according to Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel.

The blast at Casa de Espaņa, a Spanish social club and restaurant, was responsible for most of the deaths. It was crowded when more than one suicide bomber apparently entered and detonated explosives, Moroccan officials told CNN.

Jewish buildings targeted

The Cercle de l'Alliance Israelite, a Jewish community center, was damaged, but a spokesman for Morocco's Israeli community in Casablanca told CNN that it had been closed for the Sabbath and was empty at the time of the blast.

"The doors, the windows and the ceiling were all destroyed," the spokesman said. "It was very scary." The center is near the Hotel Farah.

The Belgian Consulate was also empty, but the blast killed two Moroccan guards, according to a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Affairs Office. Didier Seeuws also said one side of the building "was completely demolished."

There had not been any threats against the consulate, he said. "It's a big shock."

A diplomat on duty at the consulate said he believes the intended target was a nearby restaurant owned by Jewish Moroccans. The bombing occurred outside along the street between the consulate and the restaurant.

The restaurant owner, Jean Marc Levi, said he did not believe his business was targeted. The front door was blown in by the blast, but the building was otherwise unaffected, he said. Thirty-five people were inside the restaurant at the time of the blasts, and none was hurt, he said.

Roads leading to some consulates, including that of the United States, were closed to traffic Saturday.

Moroccan authorities blamed international terrorists for the attacks. "This is part of the terror we're facing all over the world," said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.


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