CAIRO Ñ Morocco has identified two Islamic clerics as the
masterminds behind Al Qaida-financed suicide strikes in the North African
Abdul Wahab Rafiki and Hassan Ketani were identified as having
established a cell that engaged in sabotage and murder. Both clerics were
leaders of the banned Salfiya Jihadiya group, aligned with Al Qaida.
A Moroccan court, which sentenced the two clerics to long prison terms
on Thursday, said Ketani and Rafiki inspired the May 16 suicide strikes in
Casablanca in which 45 people were killed. Officials said Al Qaida financed
the strikes and that Rafiki, also known as Abu Hafs, was a liasion with the
group headed by Osama Bin Laden.
Ketani was sentenced to 20 years in prison and Rafiki received 30 years, Middle East Newsline reported.
The prosecution had demanded the death sentence although they said the
clerics did not plan the operation.
"Although Hassan Ketani and Abdul Wahab Rafiki were not active on the
ground, they were the brains behind the kamikaze cell that carried out the
five suicide attacks in Casablanca," the prosecution said.
[In an unrelated development, the State Department has issued a warning
of the prospect of an attack on American citizens in Yemen. The U.S. embassy
in Sanaa called on Americans in Yemen to "exercise particular caution at
locations frequented by foreigners."]
Morocco has arrested nearly 650 people in wake of the May 16 suicide
strikes. In all 16 people have been sentenced to death.
Among those prosecuted during the crackdown were 14-year-old twin
sisters accused of plotting suicide attacks, including a strike against
Morocco's King Mohammed. The trial was expected to conclude on Tuesday with
final statements by the defense.
In a related development, Algeria and Morocco plan to establish a
committee to launch cooperation against Islamic insurgency groups. It was
the first time in more than 20 years that the two rivals agreed to discuss
cooperation on counter-insurgency. Algeria has long accused Morocco of
harboring Islamic insurgents who have targeted Algiers.