- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

From combined dispatches

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Two brothers blew themselves up outside American offices yesterday, marking the third terrorist attack since Tuesday in what bears the hallmarks of a new al Qaeda campaign in North Africa.

The attack yesterday, which injured one woman, followed the self-inflicted deaths of three militants in Casablanca on Tuesday and a pair of suicide car bombings Wednesday in neighboring Algeria that killed 33 persons.

The U.S. Embassy in Algeria warned Americans on Friday to be on guard against further attacks.

The bombings have stoked new fears of Islamic extremism in the two counties, both of which have allied themselves with the United States in its fight against terrorism.

But the attacks yesterday — one just outside an American cultural center and the other about 200 yards from the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca, were the first to be directed against obvious American targets.

The blasts occurred about 20 seconds apart. The bombers were identified as Mohammed Maha, who was born in 1975 and had no previous record, and his brother, Omar Maha, who was born in 1984 and was wanted in connection with Tuesday’s explosions.

Police arrested a third bomber as he tried to flee the scene in a fashionable district of the port city.

“He threw down his explosives belt and ran away. Police chased him and caught him,” said the owner of a coffee shop in the neighborhood, who declined to be identified.

A security official told the Reuters news agency that police subsequently arrested the leaders of the group behind the explosions yesterday and Tuesday.

In the earlier incident, three would-be bombers killed themselves in a poor neighborhood of Casablanca after police raided a safe house and fatally shot a fourth suspect, setting off their explosives so as not to be captured alive.

A senior police source said yesterday’s bombers clearly intended to attack the U.S. buildings. He said the two could not get closer to the buildings because of security fortifications.

On Wednesday, 33 persons were killed and more than 200 were injured in suicide car bombings in Algiers that targeted the prime minister’s office and a police station.

The U.S. Embassy in Algeria warned yesterday that further attacks were possible near the central post office and the ENTV national television headquarters. It did not cite a source for its information.

Moroccan investigators have not uncovered links between the Casablanca and Algiers bombings, but Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa has said, “We don’t rule it out.”

A group calling itself “al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa” claimed responsibility for the Algeria attacks, posting pictures, names and details about the bombers on an Islamic Web site known as a clearinghouse for extremist groups’ material.

The site said the man who attacked the prime minister’s office, identified as Mouaz bin Jabl, used 1,500 pounds of explosives.

The claim could not immediately be verified, but the same group has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks on police, troops and foreigners in recent months.

Moroccan authorities have been reluctant to blame al Qaeda for the bombings in that country, suggesting the culprits were “home-grown” militants.

But analyst Miloud Belkadi said the targets of yesterday’s bombings set them apart from those of Tuesday, which were clearly detonated as a tactic to deny pursuing police.

“The bombing today underscores links with al Qaeda strategy focusing on U.S. targets,” he said.

Algeria descended into bloodshed in 1992 after the then-military-backed authorities scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist political party was set to win. Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing bloodshed.

That violence subsided in recent years after amnesties for insurgents, but it rumbles on in mountains east of Algiers.

Morocco has long been known for its stability despite the violence in neighboring Algeria. But in May 2003, five suicide bombings around Casablanca killed 45 persons, including a dozen bombers.

Authorities staged an unprecedented crackdown on suspected militants, arresting thousands of people, including some accused of working with al Qaeda and its affiliates to plot attacks in Morocco and abroad.

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