May 17, 2003

Morocco attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A series of bombings hit Casablanca, Morocco, targeting places of Belgian, Spanish and Jewish interests, and killing dozens of people.

Moroccan Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel blamed international terrorists for Friday night's attacks, which came four days after suicide car bombings killed 25 people in Saudi Arabia.

CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen discussed this week's attacks Saturday with CNN Anchor Robin Meade.

MEADE: Is it too early to point the finger at al Qaeda?

BERGEN: There is a limited number of groups you can point the finger at, and al Qaeda has a tendency to do coordinated attacks like this one [in Morocco]. We saw it in Saudi Arabia earlier this week on Monday. It would be very surprising if this was not al Qaeda.

There was an al Qaeda cell in Morocco last year that was planning to attack U.S. and British Navy ships in the Straits of Gibraltar, and that cell was broken up. It seems to me these attacks in Morocco, directed against a combination of Western and Jewish targets, seem to have the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda attacked a synagogue in Tunisia last year in April, and it would not be surprising if they wanted to attack other Jewish targets. They also attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and tried to bring down an Israeli charter jet in Kenya with an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] last year.

MEADE: In this case, it appears that most of the victims are Moroccan. What do you make of that?

BERGEN: This is al Qaeda shooting itself in the foot in a sense. Seven of the victims in the attacks in Riyadh were Saudis. Al Qaeda is not a group that really cares very much about who the victims are at the end of the day. The 1998 Embassy bombing in Kenya killed 200 Kenyans as well as 12 Americans.

This is not a group that has many scruples about killing people who are bystanders. They are just trying to get as many body bags as possible, and they regard these kinds of attacks as a success, even though it appears right now that many of the victims are Moroccan.

MEADE: If al Qaeda is working on multiple attacks that come close together, does it appear to be some kind of a new tactic by the group?

BERGEN: Last October and November we saw a lot of attacks, all sort of spaced together, that were al Qaeda-related: an attack on a disco in Indonesia that killed almost 200 people; an attack on a tanker in Yemen that crippled it; an attack on an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya; an attempt to bring down an Israeli jet.

I think right now we are seeing the same kind of thing, and I think this has been a concern for a lot of people who are looking at al Qaeda and see they'll do a lot of these coordinated attacks.

What we've seen [Friday] night in Morocco is not the end of this necessarily -- I think there might be other attacks in the next week or so around the world.

MEADE: Would these things, if this is the work of al Qaeda, be directed by Osama bin Laden, or does it look like it could be the work of other people simply following his ideology but making their own marks?

BERGEN: The latter is very possible. There are some indications that the Riyadh attack may have been instigated by Osama bin Laden. As yet, we don't know much about the Moroccan attack.

At the end of the day though, when the bomb goes off and kills your mother or your son or your daughter, it doesn't really matter if it's an al Qaeda attack or an attack inspired by al Qaeda.