Five bombs that opened a new front in the war on terror
'We were just sitting down to paella. Then the doorman had his throat slit'
Sunday 18 May 2003
It was the end of a week of festivities to mark the birth of King Mohamed's first son and heir, and a hundred or so diners were enjoying a pleasant evening at Casablanca's Casa de España. There was paella and a bingo game.
And then shortly after 9pm the doorman had his throat slit with a knife.
The voice of Cummi, one of the young waitresses at Casa de España, quivered with terror as she described the impact of the deadliest of the five suicide bombs that ripped through the Moroccan city.
"They burst in and cut the throat of the porter on the door with a huge knife. I saw the seat where he sat was covered in blood," she said. "There was human flesh on the floor everywhere."
"They were calling out the numbers. Then, boom!, a first blast – it was like a thunderclap," said Mohammed Zerrouki, a medical technician who was enjoying a night out with friends at the club.
The Spanish cultural centre, popular among prosperous diplomats and business people of the city – the restaurant is much favoured because of its spacious inner patio – bore the brunt of five synchronised terror attacks that rocked the city. Fifteen people were killed when two bombers blew themselves up in the restaurant and another detonated a device in the adjoining Spanish chamber of commerce.
At least one blew himself up with a belt of grenades strapped to his body.
"I heard two blasts and thought they were short circuits. It was very quick," said the president of the club, Rafael Bermudez, still in shock and with blood staining his shirt. "People just flung themselves to the floor, there was blood everywhere.
"Tables turned upside down, everybody was bleeding, some were on the ground, others without a head, without arms, it was horrible, horrible. There were bodies and blood everywhere. Then six or seven ambulances came to take away the bodies. That was the worst of all.
"It's a catastrophe, a tragedy," said Mr Bermudez.
At the Jewish community centre and adjoining old Jewish cemetery, and at the Farah (also known as Safir) Hotel where a seminar on terrorism was being held, jointly organised by the United States and Morocco, there were similar scenes of destruction.
Police cordoned off the sites. But the tall hotel building's façade was destroyed, its windows blown out, and distraught guests and onlookers wandered round in a daze. The hotel security chief said two assailants burst in and were stopped by staff. "One of them stabbed one of my agents with a knife, the other agent tried to get hold of the second attacker, and that's when he blew himself up."
Some 40 Israelis were staying at the Farah Hotel. But no Jews or Israelis were among the casualties and the group was later evacuated.
Twenty-four people died immediately in the attacks and at least another 17 died from their wounds after being taken to the city's Averroes hospital. Scores more of the wounded were in a serious condition last night.
In the Jewish Alliance cultural centre in a lively part of town, a bomber blew himself up with what appeared to be a homemade device packed with nails. Three passers-by were also killed.
The attack on the Jewish community centre appeared to have been carried out by bombers wearing explosives around their belts. The single-storey building was badly damaged, with bloodstains flung 16 feet up its façade. Broken glass, bricks and rubble littered the street where a car was burnt out in front of the building. "I thought at first the explosions were festive fireworks," said Hassan, a Jewish resident, "but then we saw people starting to run and shout.
"People jumped into their cars and headed out of the Jewish quarter. We have a large, well-established Jewish community here but we've never felt under threat before."
There are about 4,000 Jews living in Casablanca.
Opposite the Jewish-owned Positano Italian restaurant and not far from the US Consulate, the five-storey Belgian Consulate was also badly damaged. Restaurant owner Jean-Mark Levy said the bomb blew up in the middle of the narrow street and the consulate took most of the impact.
Many of the bodies were burned beyond immediate recognition. Most of the victims were thought to be Moroccan, but six foreigners – two Spaniards, two Italians and two French – were also killed, according to Said Ouhalia, medical chief at Averroes hospital.
A spokesman for the Spanish Consulate in Casablanca, Ramon Iribaren, said identification of the bodies would be long and difficult.
"Casablanca is a town in shock, Morocco is a country in shock. We never expected such an event here," Abubakr Jammai, a local journalist said.
At Ibnou Roch hospital, families gathered outside the emergency unit seeking news of wounded loved ones. Two women wailed over the loss of their brother. "God, why did you take Abdelatif? He just got married," one of the two sisters cried.
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