Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Morocco busts al Qaeda-linked terror network funded by crime in Belgium

PARIS, France (AP) -- Morocco's government said it has dismantled a terrorist network that had plotted to assassinate Cabinet ministers and members of the North African kingdom's Jewish community.

Authorities believe the network has links to al Qaeda and local terror groups, the official MAP news agency said late Wednesday. A total of 32 people were arrested in sweeps this week, Moroccan newspapers said.

Morocco also has banned an Islamist political party, Al Badil Al Hadari, because some members were linked to the network, the Interior Ministry said.

The network raised money by waging holdups, selling stolen goods and taking contributions from its members, the ministry said in a statement issued Wednesday.

One suspected member of the group, with help from criminals in Europe, carried out a heist of an armored truck in Luxembourg in 2000, netting the group $25.65 million, it said.

Gold jewelry stolen in Belgium was melted down by a goldsmith who belonged to the network and then sold, the ministry statement said.

The group had plotted to assassinate Cabinet ministers, army officers and members of the Jewish community, the ministry said. Only a few thousand Jews still live in the Muslim kingdom, as many have emigrated to Israel and elsewhere.

Among those arrested was the group's suspected leader, Abdelkader Belliraj, who Interior Minister Chakib Benoussa said had links with al Qaeda and local terror groups.

Also arrested in the sweeps were political leader Mostafa Lmouatassime; Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for the Hezbollah militant group's Al-Manar television; and a university professor and a police superintendent, the MAP agency reported.

Morocco, a strong U.S. ally, has been on alert since 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca killed 45 people and stunned this relatively moderate Muslim country, a popular vacation spot. Those bombings targeted a Jewish community center and cemetery, a hotel, a restaurant and a Spanish social club.

Authorities have carried out regular anti-terror sweeps since then, raising concerns among human rights groups that say many innocent people have been arrested and tortured.

In March, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Casablanca Internet cafe, and investigators later uncovered an alleged plot targeting tourist sites across Morocco. Police cornered four suspects, shooting one dead and prompting the other three to blow themselves up to avoid capture. The blasts killed a policeman and wounded 21 other people.

Two brothers strapped with explosives blew themselves up near the U.S. consulate in April.

Source: CNN.

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