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Morocco: Marrakesh bomb strikes Djemaa el-Fna square

media captionEyewitness Hugo Somersham-Jones: "Waiters were trying to help the injured"

A bomb attack in the main square of the Moroccan city of Marrakesh has killed 15 people, at least 10 of them foreigners, officials say.

The blast wrecked the Argana cafe in Djemaa el-Fna square, a popular tourist spot. At least 20 people were injured.

The nationalities of those killed were unclear but French news agency AFP said six were French and three Moroccan.

The last major attack in Morocco was in Casablanca in 2003, when 45 people, including suicide bombers, were killed.

'Cruel and cowardly'

Moroccan government spokesman Khalid Naciri told French television that Thursday's casualties involved a number of nationalities but he would not confirm any as yet.

The interior ministry discounted initial suggestions the blast could have been a gas explosion.

"We worked... on the hypothesis that this could... be accidental. But initial results of the investigation confirm that we are confronted with a true criminal act," he said.

Mr Naciri later said that "terrorists" were behind the attack but added that it was "too soon" to give more details.

Medical sources quoted by AFP said at least five of the foreigners killed were women, but this has not been independently confirmed.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the attack as "cruel and cowardly".

King Mohammed VI has ordered a "speedy and transparent inquiry" into the blast and demanded the public be informed of the results, a royal communique said.

Witnesses described hearing a huge explosion that sent debris flying into the air.

Briton Hugo Somersham-Jones told the BBC he was at his Marrakesh home, close to the square, when he heard the blast.

"It sounded like a bomb. I went outside and saw smoke and got to the cafe and saw falling masonry. I came out to the main square and saw the first floor of the cafe in ruins.

"People had fire extinguishers, trying to put out the fire, and others were pulling people out from the building - it was pretty bad."

Mr Somersham-Jones, a hotel owner who has been running his business in Marrakesh for six years, said the square was the main area where people congregate and that there had been a deadly gas explosion last year.

Portuguese tourist Alexandre Carvalho told the Associated Press news agency he had seen injured people being carried away.

"I believe the injured were mostly tourists, judging by what they were wearing," he said.

A Marrakesh official quoted by AFP said the explosion "could have been the work of a suicide bomber" adding: "We found nails in one of the bodies."

The UK Foreign Office said consular staff had been deployed to offer assistance to any British nationals.

It said it was also aware of reports in French newspaper Le Figaro that one of the dead was British but could not verify the information.

The Foreign Office has advised UK nationals to stay away from the square.

Djemaa el-Fna square is a Unesco World Heritage site and is popular with foreign tourists, particularly Europeans.

Analysts say the blast could have a serious effect on Morocco's important tourism sector.

One French businessman told Reuters: "You can't find a more emblematic target than Djemaa el-Fna square. With this attack and amid the worrying unrest in the region, tourism will be in the doldrums for some time."

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