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Blasts Rock Casablanca, Casualties Feared

May 17, 2003

RABAT, Morocco (AP) _ Four car bombs exploded in the coastal city of Casablanca Friday, and several people were feared dead or wounded, Moroccan security officials said.

A Moroccan government official told The Associated Press that ``many deaths″ were feared. But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he couldn’t be more precise.

Security officials said there were burned-out vehicles at the four sites near consulates and restaurants in the center of the city, Morocco’s economic center.

A U.S. official said at least one of the blasts occurred near a synagogue. ``No U.S. government facility was targeted,″ U.S. State Department spokesman Joanne Moore said in Washington.

Morocco, considered a moderate Arab nation, has been a staunch U.S. ally. But it expressed regret that a peaceful solution could not be found in the Iraq crisis.

The Moroccan public turned out in large numbers for anti-war protests against the Iraq war, including one in the capital, Rabat, in March that drew 200,000 people.

King Mohammed VI has expressed concern the war could rouse the country’s Islamic fundamentalist movement.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks in Morocco.

But U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington had warned Friday of a coordinated effort by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network to strike lightly defended targets worlwide, citing the bombings earlier this week in Saudi Arabia as well as threats in Africa and Asia.

The suicide blasts in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, killed 34 people at three foreigners’ housing compounds.

U.S. and British authorities had warned of threats in East Africa, particularly Kenya, and in southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia. U.S. officials also received an unconfirmed report that a possible terrorist attack may occur in the western Saudi city of Jiddah.

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 thought to be hiding in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, U.S. officials said.

In another North African country, an explosion on April 11, 2002, tore apart sections of a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, killing 21 people, mostly foreign tourists. The blast has been linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.

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