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Pressure on Moroccan government spikes over bombing

From Martin Jay, For CNN
  • Moroccan media report the identity of the bomber, citing French news reports
  • Thousands march in Marrakech to protest the bombing and oppose calls for violence
  • The death toll from the April 28 bombing in a popular tourist destination rises to 17
  • A North African al Qaeda group denies responsibility

Casablanca, Morocco (CNN) -- Moroccan authorities continued Monday with their investigation into last month's bombing in Marrakech after a weekend protest rally in there heightened tension over the attack.

Further details -- including the identity of the bomber -- have been doled out to Moroccan media in what is perceived as an initiative by the government to calm the atmosphere following the demonstration, which was followed by a 24-hour sit-in by youths in front of Marrakech's courthouse.

Over the weekend, reports indicated that the death toll from the attack had risen from 16 to 17.

Thousands of Moroccans took to the streets of central Marrakech on Sunday to show their defiance toward the bombers and toward a call for mayhem by the North African cell of al Qaeda. The peaceful march was organized by the youth movement Fevrier 20. Protesters paraded their banners -- many of which of denounced the killings and supported political reform -- through Morocco's most liberal tourist hot spot.

Morocco is currently in the midst of a radical reform process brought about by King Mohammed VI, who is concerned about the stability of this North African country.

On Saturday, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of al Qaeda, issued a statement officially denying involvement in the April 28 bombing in Marrakech. But the group -- which is currently holding French hostages and demanding that French President Nicolas Sarkozy remove troops from Afghanistan -- has used the bombing in an attempt to rally extremist factions against the Moroccan monarch.

However, its call for the Moroccan regime to be "toppled" appears to have fallen on deaf ears, at least for most Moroccans. About 8,000 protested in a rally in Jamaa el-Fnaa Square, in front of the cafeteria where the bomb went off. Many drank orange juice in a symbolic protest against terrorism, since that's what the bomber ordered just before leaving the scene to detonate two bombs that he left there in a bag.

"We're here to denounce terrorism and the killings in Marrakech," explained one young Fevrier 20 supporter, who wished to be known only as Yassir. "But we don't want to say that this should stop the process of the struggle for reforms," he added.

Moroccan media Monday reported the identity of the bomber, attributing the information to reports in French newspapers, as no official confirmation has been offered by the Ministry of the Interior. They reported that the man is a Moroccan national and is being held by police, along with two alleged accomplices. He is said to be a young man from the coastal town of Safi who was working at the town's port.

The death toll increased to 17 when a Swiss victim passed away on Saturday, according to Swiss authorities. On Sunday, one British victim, a travel writer named Peter Moss, 59, was buried in a cemetery in North London in a service attended by the Moroccan ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Earlier speculation from the government suggested the bombing was the work of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a regional wing of the infamous terrorist organization that has sent fighters to Iraq and been accused of several Algerian bombings. Last week, Morocco's interior minister stated that he believed the bomber to be "loyal" to the North African terror cell.

On Saturday, an official Mauritanian state news agency reported that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb denied responsibility for the killings, but urged Moroccans "to liberate their oppressed, jailed brothers and to topple the criminal regime," in what is widely interpreted as a reference to the king and his government. "We deny involvement in the bombing and assure that we have nothing to do with it, neither up close nor from afar," said the statement, carried by the Nouakchott Information Agency in Mauritania.