Morocco Arrests 3 Al Qaeda Planning Attacks on Ships

Moroccan police arrested three Saudi nationals who were allegedly planning attacks against U.S. and British war ships in the Strait of Gibraltar, key government officials said Monday.

The men were arrested last month and claimed to belong to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, the Moroccan officials said on condition of anonymity.

They said that the suspects planned to sail a dinghy loaded with explosives from Morocco into the strait to attack the vessels.

The plan was similar to one carried out in October 2000, when two suicide bombers in a small dinghy rammed the USS Cole destroyer in a port in Yemen, killing 17 sailors.

There was no immediate U.S. comment on the arrests or alleged plot.

The names of the suspects, who range in age from 25 and 35, were not released.

The arrests were made with the help of intelligence services of "several friendly countries," one of the officials told The Associated Press.

It is the first confirmation of a crackdown in Morocco since the United States and its allies launched a military campaign in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda.

The men placed under arrest are not wanted in any other country, the officials said.

A French judicial official on Monday confirmed the existence of "an anti-terrorist police operation in liaison with Western interests in the Strait of Gibraltar."

The United States blames bin Laden's network for the Cole attack and the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

There are also indications that an April 11 terrorist attack against a synagogue in Tunisia, which killed 19 people, may also be linked to the Al Qaeda.

If Al Qaeda operatives are confirmed to be behind the attack, it would mark the terror group's first known successful operation outside of the war zone in Central Asia since Sept. 11.