RABAT, Oct 27 (Reuters) Moroccan authorities are holding 14 people suspected of belonging to a regional radical Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda, government officials said today.
The 14 suspects had planned to carry out an unspecified ''terrorist plot'' on Morocco, with the help of al Qeada-linked foreign fighters who would travel from the Sahel-Sahara region, they said.
Morocco, a staunch US ally in the global fight on terror, has been on alert since 2003 when suicide bombings killed 45 people in Casablanca, the country's commercial capital.
It has arrested more than 3,000 people since then and broken up more than 50 radical Islamist cells.
But it is the first time that the authorities have announced the arrest of people with suspected links to foreign cells.
''The 14 persons are suspected of being linked to a global terrorist movement which has connections with small groups operating in the Sahel-Sahara region and links with members of a group based on the Algeria-Mali border,'' an official statement said.
The statement did not name the groups but government officials said the small groups were radical Islamist cells linked to the main Algerian Islamic rebel Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) faction.
Anti-terrorism police officials in North Africa and Europe have voiced concerns that the GSPC might turn itself into a magnet for radical Islamists in the region, providing them with weapons and military training in lawless areas of the Sahara desert.
The GSPC said in September it had joined al Qaeda, whose leader Ayman al-Zawahiri urged the Algerian rebel group to become a ''bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders''.
Government officials told Reuters police had tailed one of the 14 suspects, named as Mohamed Said Idghiri, whom they had said left Morocco to join one of the small Sahel-African Islamist cells to get military training and return home.
The officials, who declined to say when exactly the arrests were made, said the 14 suspects appeared today before an investigating judge in Sale, the twin city of Rabat.
The suspects, who were remanded in custody, would go on trial on December 1 on terror-related charges pending detailed judicial investigation, the officials said.
They risk up to 10 years if convicted, lawyers said.
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