SALE, Morocco, (AP) – A man accused of leading a terrorist network was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison for terror attacks in Morocco, holdups in Europe, large-scale money laundering projects and arms trafficking.
Abdelkader Belliraj, a 51-year-old dual Moroccan-Belgian national, had faced the death penalty. He maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings.
He was charged along with 34 co-defendents.
In addition to the charges he was tried on, officials said they suspect Belliraj of having taken part in several murders in Belgium, a massive robbery in Luxembourg, combat training in Iran or Lebanon and meeting with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan a few days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Belliraj’s co-defendents included opposition Islamist politicians, a university professor, a police superintendent, and a Moroccan journalist working for Al-Manar, the TV run by Lebanon’s hardline Hezbollah group. The 34 co-defendents were handed sentences ranging from 30 years in prison to one-year suspended sentences.
The trial, which began in October, was the North African country’s highest-profile terror case. It embodied some of the worst fears of security chiefs in North Africa and Europe: radical Islamists who double up as gangsters and use their dual citizenship to spawn an international terror network.
Morocco has imprisoned over 1,000 suspected terrorists since 2003, when al-Qaeda-linked extremists killed 45 people in a string of attacks in Casablanca, the country’s economic powerhouse.