LONDON – A Moroccan dissident convicted in absentia in connection with the 2003 Casablanca terrorist attacks said Monday he has no ties to militant Islamic groups and he accused Moroccan intelligence of planting stories that he's a possible suspect in the London bombings.
British media have reported that Mohamed al-Guerbouzi (search) was in hiding and that British investigators asked their European counterparts for information about him. Europol has refused to comment on the reports and Metropolitan Police haven't publicly named any suspects.
"If I were in hiding where would I be talking to you from? The moon, the sky? I am on earth," al-Guerbouzi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in London, saying he was in the city. He was put in touch with AP by contacts who confirmed he was al-Guerbouzi.
Al-Guerbouzi refused a face-to-face interview unless he was paid and kept the telephone conversation brief. He spoke in classical Arabic with a slight Moroccan accent.
The 44-year-old was convicted in absentia in Morocco in 2003 and sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with the Casablanca bombings, which killed 32 bystanders at five targets hit by 13 bombers. Morocco has demanded his extradition from Britain.
French officials consider al-Guerbouzi, who has British and Moroccan nationality, to be the founder and principal recruiter of a Moroccan militant group, the Islamic Combatant Group (search).
But al-Guerbouzi said he had no ties with any militant Islamic group. He accused Moroccan intelligence of trying to label him a militant.
"I do not belong to any group whatsoever," said al-Guerbouzi.
He was reluctant to discuss whether he supported the ideology of Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda (search), saying only: "My thinking is like that of any Muslim. I pray, I avoid the things that are forbidden in the religion, I wear Islamic dress. I have lived here for more than 33 years, so I don't have a problem with anything or with any people."
Al-Guerbouzi refused to talk about Thursday's bombings in London of subway cars and a bus, a well-organized attack during morning rush hour that killed more than 50 people.
He said his troubles with Moroccan intelligence date back to around 1984, when he said he had a run-in with an intelligence officer. He would not elaborate.
After the bombings in Casablanca, he said, Moroccan intelligence "used the same scheme — leaking to European, British and Spanish press the same things they are saying now — that 'He's the leader in charge ....' They even asked for my extradition" from Britain.
He said more allegations surfaced following last year's Madrid train bombings "that I'm the top leader, have links to the guy detained there."
Attempts to contact the Moroccan embassy for comment were unsuccessful.
Al-Guerbouzi said he last traveled to his home country in 1986. About three years later, he turned to religion.
In an interview published Monday in the British newspaper The Guardian, al-Guerbouzi said he feared for his safety.
He also appeared on the Arab television station Al-Jazeera Saturday, his face obscured because he said he feared harassment after his picture was published in Saturday's papers.
The Al-Jazeera reporter who interviewed him confirmed it was al-Guerbouzi by checking his passport.
The London-based Asharq al Awsat newspaper reported that al-Guerbouzi settled in the United Kingdom with his family in 1974 and was in contact with Islamic militants in London. It said he was close to a group that used to send Muslim volunteers to Bosnia to fight the Serbs during the Yugoslavia civil war and to Chechnya (search) to fight the Russians.
The paper also quoted him as saying in an old interview that he opposed bombings.