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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 22:44 GMT
Saudis jailed for 'al-Qaeda' plot
 Abdullah Mesfer Ali al-Ghamdi, Zouhair Hilal and Hilal El-Assiri
The defence said the men confessed after being tortured
Three Saudi Arabians have been jailed for 10 years by a Moroccan court for plotting to attack Western warships.

The three men, accused of being part of an al-Qaeda cell, were found to have plotted to sail a dinghy loaded with explosives from Morocco and ram it into ships in the busy Straits of Gibraltar.

Prosecutors said the plot was similar to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in which 17 sailors died.

The Saudis, who were arrested last May, were also accused of planning to blow up a cafe in the Moroccan tourist destination of Marrakech, and attack tourist buses.

Prosecutors had requested the death penalty - execution by firing squad - but capital punishment is rare in Morocco.

'Suicide plot'

The three men, Abdullah Mesfer Ali al-Ghamdi, 22, Zouhair Hilal, 26, and Hilal El-Assiri, 31, were convicted on charges of attempted murder, attempted sabotage with the use of explosives and belonging to a "criminal organisation".

They were found to have plotted to buy small speed boats, fill them with explosives and use them for suicide attacks against British and US warships as they crossed the narrow Straits of Gibraltar.

The Moroccan wives of two of the men were sentenced to six months in prison for their part in the plot.

Three other Moroccans received sentences ranging from four months to one year. One Moroccan was acquitted.

The defence had argued that the authorities tortured the defendants to extract information.



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