Morocco jails 50 Islamists for terror plots

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           Hassan Khattab, the Emir of Ansar el Mehdi

by Zakia Abdennebi

SALE, Morocco (Reuters) – A Moroccan court convicted 50 radical Islamists on Friday of plotting bombings and robberies and jailed them for up to 25 years, court officials and lawyers said.

They were members of the Ansar el Mehdi “Mehdi Partisans” group, and shortly after they were rounded up in 2006 the authorities seized explosives and laboratory equipment.

The government said the group planned to declare ‘holy war’ in northeast Morocco, had recruited members of the police and the military and planned to rob banks and convoys and use the money to buy more explosives.

Their leader, Hassan Khattab, was jailed for 25 years and the 49 others were sentenced to between two and 20 years in prison, including four women who got five-year jail terms.

All the defendants pleaded not guilty. One man who stood trial with the others was acquitted.

Khattab smiled to display his indifference as the judge read out the sentences.

“We did nothing to get such sentences. We left our children alone and hungry,” said Abdesalam Debibeh, who was sentenced to eight years in prison.

The court found the defendants guilty of plotting to bomb government buildings and tourism landmarks in Casablanca and other cities and belonging to an illegal group, collecting money to fund terrorism and undermining state security and public order.

During the trial Khattab broke his silence only to deny the charges against him, attack the Moroccan government as an “apostate dictatorship” and assail its ally, the United States.

“I say to (U.S. President) Bush ‘we are coming to attack you,'” he said. “One day we will manage to wipe you out.”

Moroccan police have broken up more than 50 cells and arrested some 3,000 people since 2003, when suicide bombings killed 45 people in Casablanca.

ON ALERT

Morocco and the neighbouring Maghreb countries have been on alert for attacks since Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing stepped up suicide bombings and other attackss last year.

They fear a broad upsurge in violence in the region after Al Qaeda’s Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb said it wanted to link up radical groups in the region and use it as a base for bombings of European targets.

Algeria has suffered a series of deadly bombings since early last year, including a December 11 attack that killed 37 people.

In Morocco, six Islamists blew themselves up in Casablanca last year, killing one other person.

On Friday, the Dakar Rally that goes through Morocco and Mauritania was cancelled for the first time in its 30-year history after threats from what organisers called “terrorist organisations”.

In Mauritania, three attackers suspected of links to Al Qaeda gunned down four French tourists and wounded a fifth on Christmas Eve.

Gunmen killed three soldiers three days later in a remote area in northern Mauritania, near the border with Algeria and Morocco’s disputed Western Sahara territory.

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11 Comments »

  1. 4
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  2. 9
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