Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shaken by Attacks, Morocco Cracks Down on Militants ; Tough Sentences Given to 43 Men Convicted of May Bombings in Casablanca

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Shaken by Attacks, Morocco Cracks Down on Militants ; Tough Sentences Given to 43 Men Convicted of May Bombings in Casablanca

Article excerpt

Morocco has launched a major legal crackdown on Islamic militants. At the same time, the US ally, once considered to be one of the most stable states in the Arab world, continues its struggle to integrate moderate Islamists into national politics.

A court last week imposed heavy sentences on Islamic militants involved in a wave of deadly terror attacks in Casablancalast May.

The verdict in the trial of 87 presumed members of the extremist organization Salafia Jihadia was a harsh one - four men were sentenced to death, while 39 others will serve life sentences. Four Islamic clerics not directly involved in the bombings were also convicted of inciting the murder.

"This verdict is excessive," says Abdelkrim el Khatib, leader of the moderate IslamicParty of Justice and Development(PJD). "This will not bring people back to reason and will create discontent."

These trials mark an attempt by Morocco to clean up the political and cultural wreckage left in the wake of an unprecedented attack.

Only three months after Osama bin Laden named Morocco an "apostate" country and four days after the Riyadh attacks in Saudi Arabia, the country experienced its first real encounter with international terrorism.

A new Morocco awakened on May 16, when five coordinated terrorist attacks took place in Casablanca, the country's largest city, hitting two international restaurants, a hotel, and two Jewish centers. Thirty-three people and a dozen suicide bombers were killed.

The bombers were all Moroccans, but they belonged to the Salafia, an underground movement close to Al Qaeda created by former Afghanistan fighters in the 1990s.

Since last May, Moroccan authorities have arrested 634 people in connection with the attacks; a French convert to Islam and 33 other suspected Muslim militantswere put on trial Monday.

According to Mr. Khatib, the Casablanca verdict will not have any impact on his more moderate party. Yet he denounces the breadth of the trial, saying that the people directly involved in the attacks must be convicted, not the "nebula created around this case. We're convicting people for what they think."

The attacks have been a serious blow to the PJD, Morocco's only official Islamic party and its leading opposition group. …

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