RABAT (Reuters) - A suspected suicide bomber blew himself up after police shot dead a second suspected suicide bomber overnight during a chase in a Casablanca slum, Moroccan police sources said on Tuesday.
Police cordoned off an area of Fida slum to try to track down a third suspect who escaped the police chase and was believed to be hiding on a roof, residents said.
The house where the suspected bombers lived collapsed after an explosion, possibly caused by the third bomber killing himself, they added.
The residents said police at the scene called for a bomb disposal unit in case the house was booby-trapped or explosives were stored there.
“All residents have been evacuated as the authorities fear the suspected bomber may blow himself up on the roof of one of the homes,” a resident at the scene told Reuters by telephone.
Police have been looking for up to 12 suspected suicide bombers since March 11 when the alleged leader of a suicide squad detonated his explosives belt to stop police arresting him, the sources added.
Police sources said they believed the bombers had started to wear their belts at all times to stop security forces taking them alive.
They said police chased two of the suspected bombers into Fida and when they shot one of them dead, the second bomber detonated the belt he was wearing and killed himself.
“The three suspected suicide bombers were at a house from which they fled when police closed in to arrest them,” one resident said.
“Police fired at one of the three people as they ran away. I saw the one hit by a bullet transformed into a fireball. He appeared to be blown up as he fled. It looked as if the bullet triggered the explosives belt to detonate.”
A second man then blew himself up, the resident said.
Another resident said the three people rented the house in the Hay al Farah neighbourhood two months ago.
Top security officials said last month that Islamist bombers planned to blow up foreign ships at the port of Casablanca, the commercial capital, and other Moroccan landmarks, including hotels in Marrakech and Agadir.
Police foiled the plot by arresting more than 40 people, most of them living in poor slums in Casablanca, they said.
Three of those arrested lived in a rented house in a slum where police seized 6.5 kg (14.3 lb) of explosives which experts said were “ready to use for possible attacks”.
Morocco has been on alert since 2003 when 13 suicide bombers killed themselves and 32 other people in central Casablanca in an attempt to punish Morocco for being a staunch ally of the United States in its “war on terror”.
Top government officials said the suspected bombers and the network they belonged to are part of “home-grown terrorism” inspired by Islamist Jihadism from abroad, including Al Qaeda.