A man was killed March 11 at an Internet cafe in Casablanca, Morocco, when explosives he was carrying reportedly detonated during a scuffle with the cafe proprietor's son. The incident, which occurred on the anniversary of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, coincides with an increase in jihadist activity in the region. Although it has prompted speculation that the individual was about to execute a suicide attack in Casablanca, it raises more questions than it answers.
A man died March 11 when explosives he was carrying reportedly detonated at an Internet cafe in Casablanca, Morocco. The man, whom police identified as Abdelfattah Randi, arrived at the cafe to look up jihadist Web sites. Though he had reportedly done this before at that particular cafe, the owner prevented him from doing so this time. A fight between Randi and the owner's son ensued, and the explosives Randi was carrying reportedly detonated, killing him and injuring four others. One of the injured appeared to be an accomplice and was captured by authorities as he tried to flee. Moroccan authorities have said the cafe was not the target of the blast, but police said they believe Randi was going there to receive a location and instructions for a suicide attack somewhere in Casablanca, tracking with the recent increase in jihadist activity in Algeria and Tunisia. However, this bombing deviates from past examples of jihadist attacks in the region. If Randi was in fact going to the Internet cafe to access orders for a strike, this in itself shows how poorly planned and executed the attack would have been. Usually the timing and target of an attack are relayed to a suicide bomber through a handler who would also ensure the bomber makes it safely to the target. The target is also chosen well in advance, and preoperational surveillance is carried out in order to determine the best course of attack. Furthermore, a willing suicide bomber and his improvised explosive device are valuable commodities. A militant cell would not be likely to send the bomber into a public place to receive last-minute instructions; the risk of losing the bomber in an incident like the March 11 fight is too great. Randi likely was an amateur jihadist or a wannabe rather than a serious militant. The bomb did not appear to be very large; most serious suicide attackers who have operated in the region have used larger devices. He and his alleged accomplice could have even started emulating more celebrated jihadists by carrying explosives to detonate rather than be captured by security forces; though it is possible that Randi was a hard-core operative who did not want to be taken alive and carried a small explosive device to make sure he was not. Either way, this incident does not appear to be part of any planned attack. The regional militant group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) has recently aligned itself with al Qaeda. Under its new name, al Qaeda Organization for the Countries of the Arab Maghreb, the group embarked on a campaign of attacks against police stations, security forces and oil industry targets. Though the incident at the Internet cafe in Casablanca was probably not part of a serious organized jihadist attempt to stage an attack in Morocco, it will do little to ease tensions in a region that has been experiencing a marked increase in jihadist attacks — and it underscores the threat that is brewing just below the surface in Morocco.