Bombings in Casablanca (May 16, 2003)

One of the rare successful Al Qaeda suicide bombings in Morocco occurred in May 2003: 41 people were killed and 100 injured.

Morocco is somewhat surprisingly rarely affected by terrorism: this day in 2003 was an exception.

CASABLANCA, MOROCCO – Casablanca. The name itself suggests international intrigue and espionage. I don’t know if you have ever seen the classic 1942 film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (I have seen it many, many times) or what you think of it, but I would imagine that it has framed how we see Morocco’s largest city (seven times bigger than the capital, Rabat).

Morocco too may evoke images of spice, souqs (markets) and Middle Eastern sensuality (yes, I know that Morocco is no where near the true Middle East but as a Muslim, Arabic-speaking nation there are similarities). I have not had the pleasure of visiting the country – yet – but I have had occasions to speak with officials from that nation’s security intelligence agencies. In sum I found them to be competent.

It is true that Morocco lives in a dangerous neighbourhood. Algeria next door went through a horrendous terrorism campaign in the 1990s in which hundreds of thousands were killed (NB not all at the hands of terrorists) during that state’s ‘dirty war’. Looking south to Mauritania, jihadists are active there as well (here is the UK Foreign Office’s latest travel advisory for Mauritania). Moving a little further afar, Libya is a hellhole and most of the Sahel is rife with Islamist terrorist organisations.

Despite all this, Morocco has not seen many successful terrorist attacks – some have been thwarted by the security services. On this day in 2003 the terrorists did carry out an attack. Suicide bombers linked to Al Qaeda (AQ) slit the throats of security guards before detonating their deadly load inside bars and restaurants in Casablanca, killing 41 and wounding 100. While most of the dead were Moroccan, at least six Europeans were killed – two Spaniards, two Italians and two French.

There are body parts all over the place.

Ten days after the attacks, the Moroccan parliament hastily passed anti-terrorist legislation introduced in 2002 following the discovery of AQ cells.  Reactions of this kind are all too typical: just look at how legislation developed in the US after 9/11, not to mention the ill-considered term ‘war on terrorism’ to describe counter terrorism efforts.

Interestingly Morocco continues to be immune-ish from Islamist terrorism. I do come across the odd story in my daily scans of the news but these tend to refer to arrests, not successful attacks. I am not sure why this is so. Morocco remains a bit of an outlier. If it could bottle that it would make a mint!

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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