Morocco searching for authors of posts praising Russian ambassador's assassination

People walk past the coffin containing the body of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, who was shot dead by an off-duty policeman while delivering a speech in an Ankara art gallery on December 19, during a memorial service at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia December 22, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco’s government said on Thursday it was working to identify the authors of social media posts praising the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey this week.

Ambassador Andrei Karlov was gunned down by an assassin while giving a speech in an art gallery in Ankara on Monday.

Morocco has been trying to develop ties with Moscow as it seeks new business partners and builds support on the United Nations Security Council for its proposal to offer the disputed Western Sahara region autonomy under its sovereignty.

“An investigation has been opened by authorities under the prosecutor’s supervision to identify the people involved, and legal sanctions will follow,” the interior and justice ministries said in a joint statement.

The North African kingdom has been tracking militants since Islamic State seized whole regions of Syria and Iraq in 2014-15.

Morocco sees itself as a partner to the West in the war on Islamic militancy, although hundreds of fighters from Morocco and elsewhere in North Africa have joined militant forces in Syria’s civil war.

Officially, Morocco is aligned with the Gulf Cooperation Council in its stance on the Syrian war but it has commented less on the conflict since the king visited Moscow earlier this year. The Gulf nations mostly back the rebel forces in Syria, while Russia has supported President Bashar al-Assad.

But Morocco is divided internally over the Syrian conflict. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane this month accused Russia of destroying Syria, only for the foreign ministry to reject the comments saying it respected Russia’s role in international affairs.

Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Patrick Markey and Hugh Lawson