A massive explosion ripped through a cafe popular among foreign tourists in the Moroccan city of Marrakech on Thursday, killing 14 people and wounding 20 in what the government called a suspected criminal act.
If confirmed as terrorism, the blast in the iconic Djemma el—Fna square would be Morocco’s deadliest bombing in eight years.
The explosion just before noon tore the facade off the two—story terracotta—colored Argana cafe, leaving awnings dangling. Panicked passersby dragged away bodies and tried to put out flames with fire extinguishers, witnesses told The Associated Press.
“There was a huge bang, and lots of smoke went up, there was debris raining down from the sky. Hundreds of people were running in panic, some towards the cafe, some away from the square. The whole front of the cafe is blown away,” witness Andy Birnie, of north London, told the AP by telephone. Ms. Birnie is honeymooning in Marrakech.
The square is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its snake charmers, fire breathers and old town, or medina.
“It was lunchtime so the square was very busy. We had just walked into the square, but were shielded by some stalls,” Ms. Birnie said.
The state news agency MAP quoted a statement from the Interior Ministry as saying that 14 people were killed and 20 hurt in the explosion. The ministry said it appeared to be a “criminal act” and an investigation is under way.
The nationalities of the victims were not immediately clear.
Morocco is largely calm but was hit by terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 45 people, including the suicide bombers. Moroccan authorities have regularly rounded up terror suspects since then and have been on alert for terrorist activity.
A French official in Morocco confirmed there were several casualties in the explosion. The official was not authorized to be publicly named according to government policy.
Portuguese tourist Alexandre Carvalho, a 34 year—old call centre worker from southern Portugal said, “I had just arrived at the square, the area where most cafes are located. Suddenly I heard this massive explosion, I had my back turned to it, I turned around to see it the explosion had happened on the veranda of a cafe.
“There were at least 10 injured people, lots of debris, things flying up in the air. I saw people in a panic running towards the area with fire extinguishers, some people being carried away. I believe the injured were mostly tourists, judging by what they were wearing,” Mr. Carvalho told AP by telephone.