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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 August, 2003, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK
Death sentences for Morocco bombings

bomb debris
Five simultaneous attacks rocked Casablanca

A Moroccan court has sentenced four men to death in connection with suicide bombings which killed 45 people in Casablanca in May.

The four were among 87 defendants accused of membership of a clandestine, hardline Islamist group called Salafia Jihadia.

The judges found the four guilty of premeditated murder in the five simultaneous attacks on 16 May.

The other defendants received sentences ranging from 10 months in jail to life imprisonment, the French news agency AFP reported.

Twelve suicide bombers were among the 45 people who died as a result of the attacks - the 45th on Friday after three months in hospital.

Death sentences were handed down to Mohamed El Omari, 23, Rachid Jalil, 27, Yassine Lahnech, 22 and Hassan Taousi - three of whom were believed to have aborted their own suicide missions.

Reserve bomber

The BBC's Pascale Harter, at the trial, said El Omari was mobbed by passers-by when he fled from the Farah hotel in Casablanca after the explosives he was carrying failed to detonate.

The prosecution claimed Jalil and Taousi ran from their intended targets when they heard the first explosion and took fright.

Street vendor Lahnech was referred to in the trial as a reserve suicide bomber, recruited to carry out similar attacks elsewhere in the country.

All four defendants come from the impoverished Casablanca suburb of Sidi Moumen, which has been identified as a breeding ground for converts to what the authorities say is a form of radical fundamentalism imported from Saudi Arabia.

Taousi was considered to be a leading member of Salafia Jihadia - which advocates violence against US interests and Jews in Morocco.

The authorities believe the group is linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

More trials

One of four Islamic clerics appearing before the judges was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the others getting 30-year sentences.

Security at the trial was extremely tight, with defendants lined up behind a bullet-proof glass shield and a metal detector in the courtroom.

When the verdict was announced, defendants cried "God is great!"

The Moroccan authorities say about 700 suspects will eventually be tried under the country's anti-terrorism laws in connection with the attacks.

A Spanish restaurant, the Belgian consulate, a Jewish community centre and cemetery and a hotel were all targeted in Casablanca.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jim Fish
"The heavy sentences came as a surprise to many"



SEE ALSO:
Casablanca suspects go on trial
21 Jul 03  |  Africa
'It was like a thunderclap'
17 May 03  |  Middle East
In pictures: Casablanca blasts
17 May 03  |  Photo Gallery
Country profile: Morocco
18 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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