Morocco holds nine suspected al Qaeda activists
RABAT, Apr 3 (Reuters) Security forces in Morocco are holding nine suspected al Qaeda activists, whom local newspapers said were part of a ring that plotted bomb attacks in France, Italy and Morocco, state news agency MAP said today.
Morocco has been on alert since 2003 when suicide bombers killed 45 people in Casablanca, the country's financial capital.
More than 3,000 people have been arrested since on suspicion of having terrorist connections. Many have been released but hundreds have been jailed after trials, officials said.
Local newspapers said the nine suspects planned to participate in a larger plot to blow up a church in Bologna and a commuter train station in Milan, the headquarters of French intelligence services in Paris and the US consulate in Rabat.
''The nine suspects, arrested and brought before Rabat appeals court recently, are accused of setting up a criminal gang in view of preparing and carrying out terrorist attacks within the framework of collective plot,'' said MAP, quoting an unnamed judiciary source.
MAP did not give more details. Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Police sources said the nine were arrested early last week and that they were being held after appearing for questioning before an investigating judge at Rabat appeals court.
Pro-government daily al Alam, one of the dailies that had reported extensively on the case, said a Tunisian, named as Mohamed Benhedi Msahel, travelled from Italy, where he lived, to Algeria and Morocco to recruit bombers for the plots.
It said al Qaeda network leader Osama bin Laden endorsed the planned attacks.
Al Alam said the attacks in Italy were modelled on the Madrid train bombings on March 11, 2003, in which 191 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured. The blasts hit the Spanish capital just four days before a general election.
In Algeria, Msahel met a leader of the country's largest outlawed Islamic militant Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which is aligned with al Qaeda, to review details of the planned attacks before returning to Morocco.
He had planned to return to Italy, but was arrested, the newspaper added.
An European Muslim convert was due to join five Jihadist bombers recruited in Italy, the daily added but gave no details about who was due to carry out the four attacks in France.
Reuters TM VP0002