RABAT, Oct 16 (Reuters) - A criminal court handed down jail sentences of up to 30 years on Thursday to members of an Islamist cell that plotted to blow up Morocco’s busiest port with home-made explosives, the state news agency MAP reported.
After one of the country’s biggest terrorism trials of recent years, the criminal court near Rabat sentenced 45 men to jail terms of between two and 30 years. One woman suspect, who gave birth while in prison, was given a suspended sentence.
They all denied charges that included forming a criminal gang with the aim of committing terrorist acts, making explosives, theft, forgery and failure to denounce terrorism.
"The members of this organization being formed had planned attacks on the port of Casablanca, an auxiliary forces barracks in Bournazel (Casablanca) and police stations," MAP said.
Gang members had made explosives using raw materials bought in local markets, it said.
Security forces rounded them up after their alleged leader, Abdelfettah Raydi, detonated an explosive belt in a Casablanca Web cafe to avoid arrest in March 2007, killing only himself.
The cafe’s manager had tried to stop him viewing jihadist Web sites.
Raydi’s companion, Youssef Khoudry, was injured in the blast but escaped, only to be captured later by police and jailed for 15 years.
A month after the Web cafe blast, police raided a safe house in a popular quarter of Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city. Three men, among them Raydi’s brother Ayoub, detonated explosive belts, killing themselves and a policeman and wounding more than 20 people.
Most of those arrested came from slum neighbourhoods that encircle Casablanca, where joblessness and poverty breed despair and frustration among the young, many of whom dream of emigrating to Europe.
The north African country is best known as a quiet tourist destination but police have arrested thousands of suspected Islamist radicals and jailed hundreds since 2003, when a rare string of suicide bombings killed 45 people in Casablanca.
Rights groups say many of the trials were unfair and that harsh sentences were handed out based on flimsy evidence, but the government strenuously denies this. (Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer, editing by Tim Pearce)