An explosion killed at least 16 people Thursday at a Marrakech cafe. Most of those killed were foreign, including several French nationals. An investigation is underway into what Paris called a "terrorist attack."
The blast is suspected to be a suicide bombing
World leaders have expressed outrage after a suspected suicide attack killed at least 16 people Thursday at a central Marrakech cafe.
Moroccan Interior Minister Taib Chergaoui said at least 11 foreigners and three Moroccans were killed when an explosion took place just before noon on the terrace of the Argana cafe at Marrakech's iconic Jamaa el-Fnaa square.
The minister added that 23 wounded had been rushed to Ibn Tofail hospital, a military hospital and two private clinics. Among the wounded were 18 foreigners, he said.
Moroccan media have meanwhile reported that 15 people were killed, at least six of them French citizens.
The attack was Morocco's biggest since 2003, when Islamist militants coordinated simultaneous suicide bombings in the commercial capital Casablanca, killing 45 people.
The Argana cafe is in most tourist guidebooks
Rabat and Paris condemned Thursday what they called a "terrorist attack," while French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the bombing "heinous, cruel and cowardly."
Sarkozy's Elysee office confirmed on Thursday that there were French casualties but did not give further details.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemend the "heinous" bomb attack. The UN's 15-nation Security Council said it "condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack."
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was "appalled by this explosion."
Westerwelle said that, if the explosion were indeed the result of a terrorist attack, "it would be a cynical and abominable act, which we condemn."
"The act must in no way lead to an undermining of the process of reform that has been initiated in Morocco," he added.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said he was "shocked and saddened" by the news, adding that initial reports suggesting links to terrorism were "deeply worrying."
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also expressed her outrage at the "cowardly" act.
King Mohammed IV ordered an urgent probe into the deadly blast, which an official at the Marrakech prefecture cautiously said "could have been the work of a suicide-bomber," adding that nails were found in the bodies of the dead.
"The bombing was intended to cause maximum casualties and was explicitly an attack on tourism," said Henry Wilkinson, senior analyst at Janusian security consultancy.
The Jamaa el-Fnaa square, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, receives approximiately one million tourists a year, making it a prime target for terrorist attacks.
Rescue workers in Marrakech raced to save dozens of injured
Analysts say the explosion bore the hallmarks of the Moroccan Islamic Combatants Group responsible for the 2003 Casablanca attacks, which targeted Western and Jewish interests.
They also said there was no likely link to recent anti-government demonstrations in the country, which have been less dramatic than in other parts of the Arab world.
Moroccan security forces have cracked down on Islamist terrorism since the 2003 attack killed 33 civilians and 12 bombers.
Author: David Levitz (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sarah Harman