The 2003 Casablanca Bombings

The 2003 Casablanca bombings were a series of suicide bombings on May 16, 2003, in Casablanca, Morocco. The attacks were the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country’s history. 45 people were killed as a result of these attacks (33 victims and 12 suicide bombers). The suicide bombers came from the shanty towns of Sidi Moumen, a poor suburb of Casablanca.

Bombings

The 14 bombers, most between 20 and 23 years old, bombed four places on the night of May 16, 2003. In the deadliest attack, bombers wearing explosives knifed a guard at the “Casa de España” restaurant, a Spanish-owned eatery in the city. They blew themselves up inside the building, killing 20 people, many of them Muslims dining and playing bingo.

The five-star Hotel Farah was bombed next, killing a guard and a porter. Another bomber killed three passersby as he attempted to bomb a Jewish cemetery. He was 150 yards (140 m) away from the cemetery and likely lost, so he blew up by a fountain. Two additional bombers attacked a Jewish community center, but killed no one because the building was closed and empty. It would have been packed the next day.

Another bomber attacked a Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, and another blew up near the Belgian consulate which is located meters away from the restaurant, killing two police officers.

In all, 33 civilians died, along with 12 bombers. Two bombers were arrested before they could carry out attacks. More than 100 people were injured. 97 of them were Muslims . Eight of the dead were Europeans (three Spanish among them) and the rest were Moroccan.

Response

A large demonstration was organized through the streets of Casablanca. Tens of thousands marched, carrying banners such as “Say No to Terrorism”. They shouted “Down with Hate” and “United against Terrorism”.

Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, toured the bombing sites and was cheered by crowds of people. Moroccan authorities said in May 2004 that they had arrested 2,000 people in connection with the attacks, and began to put them on trial.

World leaders condemned the attacks, coming on the heels of the Riyadh compound bombings. In response to that attack and the Casablanca attacks, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raised the terror threat level to Orange.

Salafia Jihadia, an offshoot of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group and believed to have al-Qaeda links, is suspected of sending out the bombers. On March 19, 2004, Belgian police arrested a suspect wanted by the Moroccan government in connection with the bombings. In December 2004, a man named Hasan al-Haski, charged in the 2004 Madrid bombings, was questioned over his links to the Casablanca bombings and was suspected to have helped plan them.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was believed to have ordered the bombings. He was killed in an airstrike on June 7, 2006.

A number of Muslims were subsequently convicted of bombings. In April 2008 nine of the prisoners tunneled their way out of prison. Abderrahim Mahtade, who represents a prisoners’ advocacy group, said the fugitives had escaped from the Kenitra prison, north of Rabat, after dawn prayers. He said one of the nine had been sentenced to death, six to life imprisonment and two to 20 years.

Saad bin Laden was suspected to have had direct involvement in the bombings. He was under house arrest in Iran until escaping in 2008. He was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.

Hassan al-Kattani, having been convicted of inspiring the attacks in 2003, was pardoned in 2011 after several hunger strikes and criticisms from human rights groups which alleged that Kattani was innocent. Omar al-Haddouchi was also jailed for inspiring the bombings and pardoned in 2011.

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