/ 27 February 2009

Morocco convicts 18 in Casablanca terror trial

A Moroccan court convicted 18 people over a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks in Casablanca six years ago that left 45 dead, a defense lawyer said.

Saad El Housseini (38), the chemist who put together the bombs, was jailed for 15 years. Seventeen others received sentences on Thursday of between three and 15 years at the court at Sale, near the capital Rabat, defence lawyer Taoufiq M’ssaef said.

Moroccan authorities say El Housseini headed the military wing of the militant Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group. The group, known by its French acronym, GICM, allegedly has ties to al-Qaeda and the 2004 Madrid rail station bombings that killed 191 people.

The six near-simultaneous bombings in Casablanca in 2003 killed 45 people — including 12 suicide bombers. Morocco jailed hundreds of suspected militants under anti-terror laws passed in response to those attacks.

A former resident of Spain, El Housseini allegedly spent time in Afghanistan in 2002, authorities said. He was arrested in 2007 in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city.

M’ssaef told the Associated Press that El Housseini had denied belonging to the GICM and had expected a sentence of no more than six years. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence. — Sapa-AP