Moroccan court jails militant Islamist gang

RABAT, July 28 (Reuters) – More than 30 members of an Islamist extremist gang were jailed on Tuesday for crimes ranging from murder to stockpiling guns and explosives in readiness for attacks against the state, a Moroccan court said.

Abdelkader Belliraj, 50, the head of the group was jailed for life, while other accused cell members were handed prison terms of between two years and 30 years.

Human rights campaigners said the trial had been politically-motivated and that the convictions were suspect.

Among those convicted were several politicians, a number of teachers and a television reporter.

The state prosecutor had demanded the death sentence for Belliraj, a Moroccan-born Belgian national who denied the charges and said he had been tortured into a confession.

The Moroccan security services also say Belliraj was the author of six assassinations in Belgium between 1986 and 1989, cases which the Belgian police failed to solve.

“I lived in Belgium for more than 40 years and no policeman came knocking at my door to accuse me of trafficking weapons or killing anyone,” Belliraj said during the trial. “I am an Islamist, but I have no plan to overthrow the regime.”

Security officials regard the case as evidence religious extremist cells have become more international to evade detection since suicide bombings killed 45 people in Casablanca in 2003 and sparked a crackdown across Morocco.

The north African… >>>

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