Three Saudi Arabians have been jailed for 10 years by a Moroccan court for leading an al-Qaida plot to attack British and US warships.
The three, said by Moroccan authorities to have been firmly enmeshed in al-Qaida, were arrested on May 12, last year in what prosecutors contended was a plot to sail a dinghy loaded with explosives from Morocco into the Strait of Gibraltar to attack US and British warships.
The plan was similar to one carried out in October 2000, when two suicide bombers in a small boat rammed the USS Cole destroyer in a port in Yemen, killing 17 sailors.
A prosecutor had requested capital punishment – execution by firing squads - which is allowed under Moroccan law but rarely carried out. The North African nation has executed just two people since 1982.
“I ask for the maximum penalty because of the gravity of the crimes attributed to the accused and to put an end to terrorism, this blight that all societies are fighting,” the prosecutor, Saoud Grain, told the court earlier this week.
The Saudis, Zouhair Hilal Tabiti, 26, Hilal Jaber El-Assiri, 31, and Abdellah Msafer El Ghamidi, 22, are also accused of having planned to blow up a cafe in Marrakech, a major tourist destination, and attack tourist buses in Morocco.
The defence argued that the authorities tortured the defendants to extract information.
“The accusations were invented by the Moroccan and Israel secret services,” Tabiti told the court.
All three Saudis admitted under interrogation that they had been trained in the use of weapons and explosives at al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Moroccan police are believed to have thwarted the plot with the help of information provided by suspected al-Qaida operatives held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The three Saudis were convicted of charges of attempted murder, attempted sabotage with the use of explosives and belonging to a criminal organisation.