RABAT, (Reuters) – Morocco banned an Islamist party on Wednesday after authorities linked its leader to what they called a terrorist network rounded up by police this week.
The prime minister’s office made the announcement affecting the al Badil al Hadari (Civilised Alternative) party, which had been among Islamist parties allowed to operate legally and took part in national elections in September.
Al Hadari’s chief, Mustapha Moatassim, was among 32 people arrested in a police operation on Monday and Tuesday and accused of planning attacks against unspecified targets in Morocco. It was the first time a leader of a legal Islamist party had been linked to terrorism. Three other radical Islamist underground groups were linked to the network, Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi’s office said, as well as a group widely known as moderate, the Oumma Movement. Authorities said the terrorism network had unspecified links abroad, which Moroccan newspapers said were suspected to include Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas. Abdelhafid Sriti, Hezbollah’s Al Manar television correspondent in Morocco, was among the 32 detained.
Police said the network was headed by Abdelkader Belliraj, a Moroccan who lived in Belgium. “The prime minister decreed the dismantling of al Badil al Hadari within the framework of the break-up of the Belliraj terrorist network and in the light of the proven links between this network and the creation of this party,” Fassi’s office said in a statement. It added there were also “serious indications of the involvement of the party’s main leaders” in the network.
The Interior ministry said police discovered at least 34 weapons, including two Israeli-made UZI assault rifles, when they raided homes and offices of the suspects.
It also said a member of the network had carried out a hold-up on a Brussels subsidiary of business security firm Brink’s CO in 2000 to steal 17.5 million euros, with the help of European gangsters. “The heist from this hold-up enabled the network to introduce the equivalent of 30 million dirhams ($3.89 million) in 2001 to Morocco to fund its activities,” it added.
Morocco’s government, on alert since suicide bombings killed 45 people in Casablanca nearly five years ago, says it has broken up more than 60 cells of terror suspects since then. It has arrested more than 3,000 people in the process.
Morocco considered banning the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) after the bombings but it survived the crisis.
The largest Islamic opposition movement, Al Adl Wal Ihssane (Justice and Charity), is tolerated by King Mohammed’s government but banned from mainstream politics because of its open hostility to the monarchy.
Both Adl and PJD cast doubt on the government’s allegations and defended the leaders of Hadari and Oumma groups as moderate Islamists opposed to violence against the government.
Oumma Movement, whose leader Mohamed Merouani was among those detained, applied for legal status as a party, but the Interior ministry dismissed its request last year.
The prime minister’s office named the radical underground groups linked to the terrorism network as Chabiba Islamiya (Islamic Youth), Moroccan Revolutionary Islamic Movement and the Mujahidine Movement in Morocco.