Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a US cultural centre in Casablanca on Saturday, just days after similar attacks in the Moroccan port city.
The blasts came at the end of a week that suicide bombers also targeted neighbouring Algeria, including one attack on the prime minister’s office in Algiers that had experts warning of a resurgence in militant activity in the region.
Saturday’s attacks also coincided with a warning from the US embassy in Algiers that militants were planning further explosions at key locations including Algerian state television and the capital’s central post office.
Moroccan security forces said Saturday’s blasts occurred shortly after two men approached a policeman manning a checkpoint 100 meters (yards) from the Dar America cultural centre in Casablanca.
One asked for access to the building, but when asked for a reason, he and the other bomber set off their explosives, security officials said.
A woman passer-by was also injured in the blasts.
Other witnesses said that one of the men approached the US consulate, the other the cultural centre and blew themselves up one minute apart. Police are reportedly seeking a third man who was with the two suicide bombers.
On Wednesday, Moroccan police said they were hunting for some 10 possible suicide bombers, a day after three blew themselves up in Casablanca as they were pursued by police.
A police official said Saturday’s incident was “a desperate act in response to the successful crackdown in recent weeks by the police and security services to dismantle terrorist cells”.
One of the trio who killed themselves on Tuesday was the brother of a man who died in a March 11 explosion at a Casablanca Internet cafe that sparked the latest police operation.
Saturday’s blasts follow suicide bomb attacks at two locations in the capital of Algeria on Wednesday, killing 33 people and injuring more than 220.
The attacks were claimed by a group calling itself Al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch. One of the blasts tore the facade off the prime ministers’ office in the city centre in what was seen as a defiant message to the government.
International terrorist expert Magnus Ranstorp, at the Swedish National Defence College, said earlier this week that the attacks in Algeria and Morocco were likely a backlash against a crackdown in the two countries on militants.
He said that after the authorities in Morocco and Algeria seemed to have “broken the back of the Islamist terrorist networks” these “two fronts have been re-energised, revitalised.”
Part of the explanation could be, he said, “the severity of the crackdowns. That is what we are seeing today essentially: a sort of reaction to these offensives.”
The US embassy warning on Saturday said that militants may be planning more attacks in the centre of Algiers.
“According to unconfirmed information, there may be attacks in Algiers planned for April 14, 2007 in areas that may include the Algiers Central Post Office … and Algerian State Television Headquarters, ENTV.., among others,” an embassy statement said.
Casablanca was hit by suicide attacks in May 2003, which killed 45 people including the 12 bombers.
In the 1990s Algeria was torn apart by violence as a result of a vicious civil conflit between Islamic militants and the military that was sparked after the authorities annulled an election that won by an Islamist group.