CASABLANCA, Morocco - Suicide attackers set off explosions at a Jewish community center, a Spanish social club and a hotel and near the Belgian consulate in the heart of Casablanca, killing at least 30 bystanders and about 10 attackers, officials and witnesses said Saturday.
The five nearly simultaneous bombings also wounded at least 100 people, the official Moroccan news agency MAP said Saturday, and threw Morocco's largest city into chaos.
The attacks came just days after U.S. officials warned that Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al-Qaida network was planning a worldwide series of terrorist attacks. On Monday, a series of suicide bombings in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, killed 34 people — including eight Americans — at three foreigners' housing compounds.
The FBI (news - web sites) knows of no Americans killed in the Morocco attack, bureau spokesman Bill Carter said. At least six Europeans — two Spaniards, two Italians and two French — were killed, according to the chief of medical services at the Azerroes Hospital, Said Ouhalia.
Three suspects in Friday's bombings, all Moroccans, were arrested later that night, MAP said. The agency cited Interior Minister Mostapha Sahel as saying 41 people were killed, including about 10 attackers.
Decapitated bodies and smashed cars littered Casablanca's streets. Walls were peeled back and some buildings partially leveled. Alone in the wreckage, a woman howled in anguish. Later, hundreds of curiosity seekers and relatives rushed to the scene seeking information.
The blasts apparently occurred just after 9 p.m., officials said. Joanne Moore, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington, said no American government offices were targeted.
The assailants carried out the carnage with precision, witnesses said. Three of them entered the restaurant in the Casa de Espana social club after slitting the security guard's throat with a large knife, employee Lamia Haffi told Spanish National Radio.
Then two attackers detonated explosives, she said.
"We had just been served paella, and they were calling out the numbers," said Mohammed Zerrouki, a medical technician having dinner and playing bingo with his friends. "Then, `Boom!' a first blast — it was like a thunderclap,"
Social club owner Rafael Bermudez told The Associated Press that one bomber then blew himself up under a tent where clients, including several Spaniards, were seated.
"I heard the bombs and then everything started burning," Bermudez told Spanish National Radio. "Everyone was on the ground and there was blood everywhere. It was horrible."
The Spanish Embassy in Rabat estimated there were 18-20 dead at the restaurant bombing.
A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington said late Friday there were no immediate claims of responsibility or any clear indications of who carried out the bombings.
However, al-Qaida involvement was plausible and the group maintains a presence in Morocco, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The attacks bore many al-Qaida hallmarks: multiple, simultaneous strikes; suicide assailants; and lightly defended targets.
"They were terrorists, suicide bombers," Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel said. "These are the well-known signatures of international terrorists."
The German government on Saturday urged its citizens to watch out for terrorist threats in Morocco after the blasts. A Foreign Ministry travel advisory called for "heightened vigilance," especially around tourist sites and places of worship.
The blasts damaged a Jewish community center and cemetery, the Belgian consulate, the Spanish restaurant and the Hotel Safir. The community center was closed at the time, said Mohammed Aithammou, the owner of a nearby cafe.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said the consulate was not a target but rather suffered "collateral damage."
Michel said a restaurant across the street from the consulate was the likely intended target. The Positano restaurant is owned by a French Jew of Moroccan origin. Moroccan officials had no immediate comment on the theory.
Owner Jean-Mark Levy said the bomb exploded in the middle of the narrow street and the consulate took most of the impact. There are about 4,000 Jews living in Casablanca.
The motive for the bombings was unclear. Morocco has been a staunch U.S. ally, but expressed regret that a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis could not be found. Spain supported the U.S.-led war against Iraq (news - web sites) but Belgium opposed it.
U.S. counterterrorism officials warned Thursday of a coordinated effort by bin Laden's network to hit targets worldwide. They cited the Saudi bombings as well as threats in Africa and Asia.
U.S. and British authorities warned of threats in East Africa, particularly Kenya, and in southeast Asia, especially Malaysia. American officials also received an unconfirmed report that a possible terrorist attack may occur in the western Saudi city of Jiddah.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Saturday the blasts were not a surprise.
"The terrorists are still there. They are still dangerous," he said. "They want to take Arab Muslim people backward ... but I do not believe that that is where the great majority of Arabs and Muslims want to go."
In Morocco, municipal elections were delayed in April over concerns of growing Muslim fundamentalism.
Sahel, the Moroccan interior minister, said his country would not be intimidated.
"The Kingdom of Morocco will never surrender to terrorists and will not allow anyone to disturb its security," he said.
The Moroccan public turned out in large numbers for protests against the Iraq war, including one in the capital Rabat in March that drew 200,000 people.
King Mohammed VI, who was scheduled to travel to site of the blasts, had expressed concern the war could rouse the country's Islamic fundamentalist movement.
Casablanca, which has 3.5 million people, lies 200 miles southwest of Spain on North Africa's Atlantic coast.
Three Saudis were arrested in Casablanca last year, and sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Moroccan court, for an al-Qaida plot to attack U.S. and British warships in the Straits of Gibraltar.
Al-Qaida has suffered serious blows in recent months, including the capture of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But senior al-Qaida leaders were believed to be hiding in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, U.S. officials said.