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Morocco: Two bombers talking to police

Some U.S. officials question presumed al Qaeda link

A police officer examines the Casablanca Jewish center damaged in Friday's bombing.
A police officer examines the Casablanca Jewish center damaged in Friday's bombing.

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A series of blasts ripped through downtown Casablanca.
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CASABLANCA, Morocco (CNN) -- Two participants in Friday night's suicide bombings have been captured and are providing valuable information to police, Morocco's interior minister said Monday.

Three others suspected of direct involvement in the attack also were in custody, police said.

Police initially said that 13 of the 14 bombers had died in the attacks.

Monday, Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel said only 12 had died, and that one of the surviving bombers had escaped but was captured Sunday night. The Interior Ministry offered no details on the arrest.

Interrogations of the two surviving attackers "have permitted the investigators to make a remarkable advance in the investigation and confirmed presumptions of links with international terrorism," he said.

Moroccan officials were still reporting a total death toll of 42. It was not clear whether the change reported by Sahel meant the death toll from the five bombings had been revised to 41, or if it meant that 30 victims had died, instead of the 29 previously reported.

Nearly all the dead are Moroccans. There were no American casualties.

Bombers' allegiance at issue

The key question dogging investigators is whether the attacks were launched by local extremists or were coordinated by an international terrorist group.

U.S. officials sent conflicting signals Monday on whether the attackers were linked to al Qaeda.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "We do have suspicions that it was" al Qaeda-related.

But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters there is no information to suggest the attacks are the work of al Qaeda as opposed to local Moroccan radicals.

Moroccan police told CNN they believe the attackers were Moroccans who had trained abroad, and that some have links to a shadowy Islamic group known as Salifia Jihadia.

When one of the group's leaders was arrested in March, he publicly expressed sympathy for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The vast majority of people taken into custody after Friday night's suicide bombings have been released, Moroccan police officials told CNN on Monday.

On Saturday, the Interior Ministry said officials had arrested 27 people, picking up nearly all of them during raids in a poor, shantytown neighborhood in eastern Casablanca.

One would-be suicide bomber was captured Friday night after being incapacitated by a companion's blast, police said.

Residents: One bomber might have missed target

More than 100 people were wounded in the near-simultaneous explosions at a Spanish social club, a major hotel, the Belgian Consulate, a Jewish community center and a small public square. Monday, residents said the latter explosion, which killed three young men who had been playing cards by a nearby fountain, might have been meant for another location.

Those residents pointed out to CNN that a similar fountain, near the entrance to a Jewish cemetery a few blocks away, was more likely the man's target.

Funerals for the three card players were held Monday at Casablanca's main cemetery.

A team of FBI investigators arrived in Morocco on Monday morning, Boucher said, but even before that, American and French investigators could be seen scouring the bombing sites for evidence.

"Our sympathies go out to the families and to the loved ones of the victims, and we express our hopes for a speedy recovery of the injured," Boucher said. "We're in touch with Moroccan officials and offer whatever assistance we can in this time of sorrow and grief."

Boucher also said Margaret Tutwiler, the U.S. ambassador to Morocco, who had been temporarily posted to Iraq, had returned to Casablanca.

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