SALE, Morocco (AP) – A long-stalled trial for more than 50 alleged terrorists accused of plotting attacks on military and tourist sites in Morocco got under way Friday, with new purported links to foreign extremists emerging.
Moroccan authorities introduced at least four more suspects Friday to the original 58, after recent arrests following up on the initial police investigation last summer. Of the four confirmed new suspects, one was arrested in Libya, where he is alleged to have links to terrorists networks. Another, arrested in Morocco, is accused of ties to a hard-line Islamic militia in Somalia.
Previously, Moroccan authorities had claimed the group had no links to foreign extremists. Defense lawyers argued that the new suspects were unconnected to the case and should not be included in the trial.
Prosecutors say the group, known as Ansar al-Mehdi, planned to attack military and tourist sites in Morocco with the aim of bringing down the government. The group’s name means “supporters of the Mehdi”, a divine figure in Islamic tradition whose arrival is said to herald the end of the world.
Suspected members include soldiers and the wives of pilots for the North African kingdom’s state airline, unusual in a country where violent extremism is very rare, and usually surfaces among the jobless poor.
The suspects face various charges under Morocco’s anti-terrorism law, hastily introduced after suicide attacks in Casablanca in 2003 killed 45 people, including the bombers, and woke the nation to the threat of militant Islamic extremism.
The trial has been postponed three times since the suspects were arrested in a sweep last summer. Human rights groups have accused Moroccan authorities of deliberately stringing out trials to intimidate defendants.
At the trial’s most recent postponement on March 23, defendants mounted their benches to yell protestations of innocence over the glass divider separating them from the rest of the courtroom.
Other defendants claimed police had tortured them, denied them medical care and forced them to sign false confessions. Human rights groups say such practices are common in terrorist cases.
The court planned to decide by Friday evening whether the new suspects would remain among the defendants. Three of the suspects were present in the courtroom Friday, while the man arrested in Libya was absent.