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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Casablanca suspects go on trial
Damaged Belgian consulate in Casablanca
The attacks killed 44 people
The first trial of suspects directly linked to May's suicide bomb attacks in Casablanca has begun amid tight security in Morocco.

Fifty-two suspected members of the radical Islamic group, Salafia Jihadia, appeared in a cage of bullet-proof glass in the criminal chamber of Casablanca's appeals court.

The hearing was suspended shortly afterwards, when defence lawyers requested more time to prepare their arguments.

Forty-four people, including 12 suspected suicide bombers, died in the 16 May attacks.

Before suspending the hearing, the judge demanded that three alleged would-be suicide bombers, who are said to have survived their attacks, identify themselves.

The hearing marked the beginning of a series of legal proceedings against those the Moroccan authorities say were behind the bombings.

The authorities say about 700 suspects will eventually be tried under the country's anti-terrorism law.

Morocco has blamed the attacks on home-grown Islamist groups - such as the banned Salafia Jihadia - many of whose members have been arrested since May.

But it also says they were linked to international extremists, notably Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Two groups of suspects

BBC North Africa correspondent Sebastian Usher says the country is still in shock over the series of attacks that hit Western and Jewish targets in Casablanca.

The bombings shook Morocco's image of itself as immune to the violent Islamism that has plagued its neighbour, Algeria.

The suspects have been divided into two groups - those allegedly involved in the Casablanca attacks and those accused of planning similar attacks elsewhere in Morocco.

Among them is one non-Moroccan - Pierre Robert, a Frenchman also known as Abu Abderrhaman.

He is accused of masterminding the bombings and having links to al-Qaeda.

He is also believed to have identified another would-be suicide bomber and al-Qaeda connection, Abdelaziz Benyaich, currently under arrest in Spain.

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