RABAT, (AFP) — The main suspect in last week’s deadly bomb attack in Marrakesh was previously expelled from Libya and Portugal, Moroccan Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui said Friday after three people were arrested.
The alleged bomb-maker, accused of killing 16 people including eight French nationals, “was expelled from Portugal in 2004 and from Libya in 2008, when he was trying to get to Iraq,” Cherkaoui said.
He was also expelled from Syria in 2007, and tried “several times to reach hotbeds of terrorism, but he failed” and decided to carry out a “big terrorist act” in Morocco.
Cherkaoui added that the three Moroccan suspects in custody “admire Al-Qaeda, are filled with Al-Qaeda ideology and with Salafist ideology,” in a reference to a radical Islamist movement.
The two other suspects arrested also tried to reach Iraq from Libya in May 2008, but all three were expelled, the minister said.
Cherkaoui did not identify the main suspect, but according to a security source his name is Adil El-Atmani.
The suspect learned on the Internet how to make explosives and used a mobile telephone to trigger the two bombs of six and nine kilos (13 and 20 pounds) on April 28 in a crowded Marrakesh cafe popular with tourists, the minister said.
The bombs were concealed in pressure cookers when they blew up on a cafe terrace in Jamaa El Fna square, the tourist heart of Marrakesh, in the south of the north African kingdom, a security source said.
The attack also left 21 people injured.
The suspected bomber, wearing a wig and carrying a guitar, left two bags containing the bombs on the Argana cafe terrace and triggered the blasts just after leaving the cafe, a security source said.
“He chose Marrakesh because the town attracts a lot of foreign visitors,” Cherkaoui said. “He initially chose another cafe that he visited a month ago, but he targeted the Argana because he realised that it was very popular with foreigners.”
The three Moroccans were arrested at Safi, 350 kilometres (220 miles) south of Casablanca, a security official said Thursday, adding that they had a police record and were known for taking part in the recruitment of fighters for Iraq.
Cherkaoui said that “for about six months, the suspect was getting hold of explosive products to make the bombs, which he hid in his parents’ house in Safi.”
There was speculation that Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a branch of Al-Qaeda that operates in several northwest African countries, was linked to the attack but so far no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Questioned on that fact, government spokesman Khalid Naciri has said: “If Al-Qaeda has not claimed it, that does not mean it is not responsible.”
The interior ministry said Thursday that the main suspect was “a keen jihadist who has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda”.
The three suspects will be heard by a judge “after the ongoing investigation is closed”, according to the ministry.