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  Nation 2  


 

Morocco bomb probe eyes Al-Qaeda

MARRAKESH, Morocco (AFP) – A bomb in Marrakesh that killed 16 people was set off by a remote-control device and bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda, a Moroccan minister said.
“The way in which this act was carried out reminds us of the style normally used by the Al-Qaeda organisation,” Interior Minister Taeb Cherkaoui told reporters on Friday.
He also updated the death toll from 15 to 16, and said 13 of those killed had been identified: they were seven French nationals, two Canadians, two Moroccans, a Dutch national and a British national.
A medical source told AFP that the 16 dead in Thursday’s explosion comprised eight French nationals, two Canadians, two Moroccans, a British man, a Dutchman, a Swiss man and a Portuguese man.
The British man was identified as Peter Moss, 59, from London, according to the Jewish Chronicle paper. The father of two was a writer, comedian and broadcaster, according to the London-based publication.
Another report in the Israeli media suggested that a 30-year-old pregnant Israeli woman and her husband, originally from Morocco, had been among the victims.
Earlier, Cherkaoui told deputies in Rabat: “Initial inquiries have shown an explosive product made up of nitrate and ammonium and two TATP explosives, and also with nails – and the explosion was set off from a distance.
Triacetone triperoxyde, or TATP, is relatively easy to make and has surfaced in a number of recent investigations into attacks, including the July 2005 London bombings that killed 56 people and injured another 700.
Witnesses said the blast went off on the terrace of the Argana cafe, a popular tourist cafe in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh’s main square, wrecking the facade and the first floor.
No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing since the attack took place. But a video posted on the Internet three days before the bombing and attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) included a threat to Morocco.
It showed five young men, armed, dressed in desert fatigues, their faces covered by the Arab headdress, or shemagh. AQIM has been active in countries in the region, notably carrying out a series of kidnappings for ransom.
Dutch tourist John Van Leeuwen told AFP he had looked the man believed responsible for the attack in the eyes moments before the blast.
“There were only tourists in the cafe, and three other Moroccans, and one guy that didn’t initially look suspicious,” Van Leeuwen told AFP by telephone as he waited, with Marjolein Appel, 39, to catch a flight home.
“But after we found out it wasn’t a gas explosion, my girlfriend and I, we looked at each other, and said that must have been him.
The man had been carrying “two huge bags”, and he thought he had left the cafe shortly after him and his girlfriend, he added.
Police created a photofit image of the alleged bomber based on their description and “it looks as if it’s someone that is familiar to the police”, said Van Leeuwen.

 
In US visit, Japan says to keep global focus

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Japan pledged Friday that it would stay active on the world stage and maintain aid to Afghanistan as it sought to ease US concerns that the key Asian ally would turn inward after its mega-disaster.
Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, who took office just two days before his country was ravaged by one of history’s most powerful earthquakes on March 11, flew to Washington for talks on his first bilateral visit overseas.
“We were hit by the earthquake, but we wish to emerge stronger and to continue to fulfil our responsibility in the international community,” Matsumoto said after talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I would like to express our gratitude for the support given by the United States and also convey our determination to recover,” he said.
Clinton and Matsumoto said they discussed disaster relief but also a range of global issues such as the Middle East along with key regional priorities for Japan such as diplomacy on North Korea and China.
Clinton said that Japan had made “critical contributions” to Afghanistan, a leading focus for the United States as it tries to find a political solution to end its decade-long military involvement.
Japan “just announced that it will continue its financial assistance to Afghanistan at the same level as before the earthquake,” Clinton said.
“That is a remarkable example of both leadership and generosity that we appreciate,” Clinton said. Japan in 2009 pledged up to $5 billion in aid to Afghanistan over the following five years.
Matsumoto later left Washington on a trip that will take him to Belgium, Germany and Senegal, where he will go ahead with a previously scheduled aid conference between Japan and African leaders, a Japanese official said.
The US military, which stations some 47,000 troops in Japan, mounted a round-the-block relief operation after the earthquake as it ferried supplies, repaired the key Sendai airport and helped the grisly task of searching for bodies.
The relief operation has helped ease some of the recent frictions between the United States and Japan, whose centre-left government that took office in 2009 tried and failed to renegotiate the location of a key military base.
Despite the renewed spirit of alliance, some US officials have privately voiced concern that Japan could turn inward as it undertakes the massive task of rebuilding from the disaster that left nearly 26,000 people dead or missing.

 
62 killed in protests, Syria faces sanctions
DAMASCUS (AFP) – At least 62 people died in clashes in Syria when tens of thousands of protesters marked a “day of rage,” activists said, as Washington and Brussels decided to slap sanctions on Damascus.
Syrian authorities said nine members of the security forces were killed at the hands of “terrorist groups” in Friday’s unrest.
Pro-democracy protests were held against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in most cities and major towns after Muslim weekly prayers, as on past Fridays since last month, witnesses said.
At least 33 civilians were killed in and around the protest epicentre of Daraa, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP in Nicosia, adding it had a list of names of those confirmed killed.
Military officials said five soldiers were also killed and two captured by “armed terrorists” in the Daraa region of southern Syria.
And 27 civilians were killed in and around the industrial city of Homs, north of Damascus, the Observatory said, and two more in the Mediterranean port city of Latakia.
A military spokesman said one of the troops killed was a victim of “armed terrorists” who raided the family homes of soldiers in villages around Daraa. Dozens of assailants were killed and wounded, and 156 arrested, he said.
Three soldiers were killed when “another terrorist group” tried to cut off the main highway linking the cities of Homs and Hama, north of Damascus, the spokesman said, quoted by the state news agency SANA.
A policeman in Daraa was also among the dead.
As the violence raged, Washington blocked the assets of the president’s brother Maher al-Assad, who commands Syria’s feared Fourth Armoured Division, of several other top officials and its intelligence services.
“We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the absolutely deplorable actions that the Syrian government is taking against its own people. The violence must end immediately,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels launched preparations for an embargo on the sale of weapons and equipment that might be used for internal repression.
The 27-nation bloc will also “urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures with the aim of achieving an immediate change of policy by the Syrian leadership”, said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
In addition, the EU decided to put the brakes on an association agreement that could open the way for Syria to win preferential trade deals with the EU, Ashton said.
In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council endorsed a US call for an investigative mission on the bloodshed as it voted in favour of a resolution condemning the crackdown on protests.
Ahead of Friday’s bloodshed, dissidents said security forces using live rounds and tear gas already killed more than 450 people since the pro-democracy protests erupted in mid-March.
The call for mass demonstrations was issued on a Facebook page, The Syrian Revolution 2011, a motor of the protests in which demonstrators inspired by uprisings across the Arab world are seeking greater freedoms.