February 19, 2008 / 9:22 PM / 10 years ago

Teachers and police among Moroccan jihadist suspects

RABAT (Reuters) - Teachers, lecturers, a police officer and a journalist were among 32 people arrested by Morocco’s security services in an operation to break up a suspected jihadist cell, the government said on Tuesday.

The suspects were rounded up in the capital Rabat, in Casablanca and other towns across the country in the past two days and security analysts have expressed surprise at the varied background and high profile of some of those held.

The best known are leading Islamist political figures Mustapha Moatassim, Mohammed Amine Ragala and Mohamed Merouani.

Others include company directors, government employees, a hotel manager in the popular tourist destination of Marrakesh and a correspondent for Hezbollah television channel Al Manar, according to a list published by state news agency MAP.

The cell’s alleged leader, Abdelkader Belliraj, is a Moroccan living in Belgium. MAP said the group was “very dangerous” and had links with other organizations active in Morocco and abroad.

Since suicide bombings killed 45 people in Casablanca five years ago, the Moroccan authorities have rounded up thousands of Islamists suspected of planning to overthrow the north African country’s secular-minded monarchy and imprisoned hundreds.

More bombings hit the normally peaceful country last March and April when seven men blew themselves up in Casablanca, killing themselves and a police officer.

The government made dozens of arrests in the months following the bombings, raised its national security alert to maximum and deployed extra security personnel. The alert was lowered after September elections passed off peacefully.

As with the 2003 attacks, many of last year’s bombers were poor, jobless and impressionable young slum dwellers drawn to violence on the promise of eternity in paradise.

But cases have emerged of better-off Moroccans being linked to jihadist cells. Among 50 suspected militants jailed for up to 25 years last month for plotting bombings and robberies were the wives of two pilots at national airline Royal Air Maroc.

Rights activists said the government’s decision to arrest three Islamist politicians could be a form of revenge on its opponents.

“I condemn and deplore these detentions ... due to the illogical accusations concerning terrorist acts, just as I condemn all the political detentions our country has endured,” said Abdeslam Adid of Moroccan human rights group AMDH.

Human rights groups say the security services abuse the rights of many people arrested under anti-terrorism laws and insist many are held on unfounded suspicions, something the government denies.

Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer and Zakia Abdennebi

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