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Morocco: Thefts in Europe funded terror ring

Morocco says it has dismantled a terrorist network that raised funds through holdups and jewelry thefts in Europe and was plotting to assassinate Cabinet ministers, army officers and Jews in the North African kingdom.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Morocco's government said it has dismantled a terrorist network that had plotted to assassinate Cabinet ministers and members of the North African kingdom's Jewish community.

Authorities believe the network has links to al-Qaida and local terror groups, the official MAP news agency reported Wednesday night. A total of 32 people were arrested in sweeps this week, Moroccan newspapers said.

Morocco also has banned an Islamist political party, Al Badil Al Hadari, because some members were linked to the network, MAP said, citing the interior minister.

The network raised money by waging holdups, selling stolen goods and taking contributions from its members, the report said. One suspected member of the group waged a heist of an armored truck in Luxembourg in 2000, netting the group $25.65 million, MAP said.

Gold jewelry stolen in Belgium was melted down by a goldsmith who belonged to the network and then sold, it said.

The group had plotted to assassinate Cabinet ministers, army officers and members of the Jewish community, Interior Minister Chakib Benoussa was quoted as saying. Only a few thousand Jews still live in the largely Muslim kingdom, as many have emigrated to Israel and elsewhere.

Moroccan authorities have been on alert since suicide bombings in 2003 in Casablanca killed 45 people and stunned this relatively moderate Muslim country, a popular vacation spot. Those bombings targeted a Jewish community center and cemetery, a hotel, a restaurant and a Spanish social club. Authorities have carried out regular anti-terror sweeps since then.

Last March, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Casablanca Internet cafe, and investigators later uncovered an alleged plot targeting tourist sites across Morocco. Police cornered four suspects, shooting one dead and prompting the other three to blow themselves up to avoid capture. The blasts killed a policeman and wounded 21 other people.