Morocco Sends Experts to Help With Investigation

Published March 13, 2004

| Associated Press

Morocco said it would send security experts to Madrid on Sunday to help investigate after Spain detained three of its citizens in connection with bombings that killed 200 people.

Spokesman Nabil Benabdallah identified the three suspects as Jamal Zougam, 30; Mohamed Bekkali, 31, a mechanic; and Mohamed Chaoui, 34. All three are from northern Morocco, but Benabdallah gave no further details about them.

Spanish authorities arrested the three Moroccans and two Indians on Saturday around Madrid. Spanish Interior Minister Interior Minister Angel Acebes said one "could be related to Moroccan extremist groups."

No particular group was named, but Morocco has two principal terrorist groups: the Salafia Jihadia (search) and the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (search).

The Salafia Jihadia is a secretive, radical Islamic group accused by the Moroccan government of organizing five nearly simultaneous attacks on May 16, 2003 in Casablanca, Morocco, that killed 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers. Most of the targets were Jewish, but one suicide bombing took place at the Spanish restaurant Casa de Espana, very close to the Spanish consulate.

Moroccan officials believe the group has operational links with Al Qaeda (search), and that Usama bin Laden's terror network gave the green light for the Casablanca attacks.

The other organization, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, is a forerunner to the Salafia Jihadia and is considered to be the first radical jihad (holy war) movement in Morocco. Its members fought in and recruited combatants to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Between 200 and 300 Moroccans trained in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials have said. About 20 remain unaccounted for and are being actively searched for, according to Western security sources.

NATO (search) is working on plans to improve its military and political ties with nations in North Africa, including Morocco, as part of a drive to refocus the alliance on new threats from terrorism and regional instability.

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