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Chatter turns to screams of horror

"People were severely wounded, crawling in the street, completely burned and disfigured," a Moroccan terror bomb survivor says.

By Associated Press,
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 18, 2003

CASABLANCA, Morocco - The bingo caller was shouting out numbers and waiters had just served paella at Casablanca's upscale Casa de Espana social club when two deafening explosions went off.

What followed was horror.

"People were severely wounded, crawling in the street, completely burned and disfigured," Sabah Mazouzi, a 33-year-old Moroccan teacher who was in the club but escaped injury, said Saturday. "I saw one person missing his jaw."

The quick succession of five suicide bombings in Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, killed 31 bystanders and 10 terrorists Friday night, officials said.

The buildings targeted Friday were the Casa de Espana, a Jewish community center called the Israelite Community Circle, an old Jewish cemetery, the Belgian Consulate and a major downtown hotel.

Three suspects, all Moroccans, were detained Friday night, the official MAP news agency said. Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel said a wounded suicide bomber was being interrogated by police.

The strikes left a trail of devastation and stunned this Muslim kingdom on the Atlantic coast, a staunch U.S. ally.

Particularly shocking was that this was a week of rejoicing. The wife of King Mohammed VI had given birth to the couple's first child, a son, an event that was greeted with a 101-gun salute and a week of celebrations that continued until Friday.

That was the day the bombs went off across Casablanca.

Abdellah Ghattas, head of food services at the glitzy Hotel Farah, formerly the Hotel Safir, told the New York Times on Saturday that he heard the deafening explosion and came running. He suddenly found himself confronted with dozens of panicked guests and face to face with one of three men who led the attacks.

"People wanted to beat him up, but I pushed him to the ground and we held him until the police came," Ghattas said of the bearded young man carrying a backpack.

The other two attackers ran away, Ghattas said, after one threw a bomb into the lobby. A security guard was stabbed to death at the door, and a bellman was also killed in the explosion.

"I gathered up his body parts - his head, his limbs," Ghattas said. "He had four children."

No U.S. citizens were reported among the dead.

The Spanish Embassy in Morocco's capital, Rabat, said the blast at the Casa de Espana restaurant killed up to 20 people. That would make it the bloodiest of the five attacks.

"I heard the bombs, and then everything started burning," Rafael Bermudez, the owner of the social club housing the restaurant, told Spanish National Radio. "Everyone was on the ground, and there was blood everywhere. It was horrible."

About 4,000 Jews, at most, live in Morocco, and the country is proud of the harmony between its Muslims and Jewish minority.

"We are profoundly shocked," said Serge Berdugo, president of the Council of the Jewish Community in Morocco. "This drama is a thunderbolt in a serene sky."

- Information from the New York Times was included in this report.

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