Morocco: Casablanca and Madrid terror suspects get heavy sentences

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Abdelkader Belliraj was Tuesday convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Moroccan anti-terrorism court. Accused of murdering six people in the early 90s, Abdelkader Belliraj was sentenced alongside 34 members of the terrorist network he ran. His co-defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year suspended sentences to thirty years in prison.

A Moroccan anti-terrorism court has issued its verdict on the Belliraj terrorism case. Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian-Moroccan accused of running a terrorist network, was sentenced Tuesday morning by the anti-terrorist court of Sale to life imprisonment. All 34 co-defendants, suspected of being part of the network, have been slapped with sentences ranging from one year suspended prison terms to thirty years in prison. They were found guilty of charges including, “undermining the internal security of the State”, “criminal association in order to prepare and commit terrorist acts as part of a collective aimed at seriously altering public order, through violence and terror “, “premeditated murder “, “attempted murder with premeditation,” “robbery and attempted robbery and illegal possession of weapons and explosives”. Among the accused were the heads of moderate Islamist parties dissolved by the Moroccan authorities. Some even maintained links with human rights associations.

Abdelkader Belliraj is accused of having organised the murder of six people in Belgium in the late 80s and early 90s. His network was aided by funds collected from robberies. Prior to his final arrest, he had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for a robbery in Luxembourg, but he escaped to Morocco where he engaged in money laundering.

He was arrested on February 18, 2008, in Morocco with 33 members of his network. According to the Moroccan press at the time, the group had been under surveillance for several years and that the network had been dismantled as they were planning a series of attacks. A few months after his arrest, Abdelkader Belliraj, allegedly, confessed to having committed the crimes for which he is accused, but later recanted his confession after claiming that they had been extracted under torture. During the trial, he denied all allegations brought against him. The prosecutor called for the death penalty against him on June 1.

After the verdict was given, relatives of the accused present at court chanted slogans denouncing the ruling, while defendants flashed victory signs amid smiles. Meanwhile, parents and friends of the accused believe that evidence brought against them is not sufficient enough to attract such heavy sentences. During court deliberations they asked for the acquittal of the accused by holding a sit-in. Defense lawyers have vowed to launch an appeal.

Since the violent attacks (16 May 2003 in Casablanca and later in Madrid on 11 March 2004), Morocco has intensified its fight against terrorism. One thousand Islamists have so far been imprisoned.

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