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Morocco arrests 11 in suspected terror plots

May 20, 2008|From a Times Staff Writer

MADRID — Anti-terrorism police in Morocco and Belgium were investigating suspected plots Monday after Moroccan security forces rounded up 11 suspects with alleged links to the European nation and to Al Qaeda's offshoot in North Africa.

The arrests were made in the cities of Nador and Fez, Moroccan authorities said. Belgian police were pursuing leads that the group had ties to known extremists in Belgium and may have plotted attacks in Brussels on a luxury hotel and European Union facilities, a Belgian anti-terrorism official said Monday night.

"This involves dangerous people who were known to us," said the anti-terrorism official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. "But we need more information before we can confirm whether they had targets."

Moroccan officials said the group also plotted attacks in their country, but the officials would not discuss targets.

Despite past cooperation between the two countries, the Moroccan raids caught Belgian authorities off-guard.

"We were not aware of it," said spokeswoman Lieve Pellens of the federal prosecutor's office in Brussels. "We need to look into it. There has been no change in our alert status."

In December, Belgium went on high alert after police arrested a group of North Africans suspected of plotting transit bombings. Those suspects were released, but police were looking at potential links between that case and the roundup in Morocco, the anti-terrorism official said. A suspect arrested Monday had been living in Belgium.

Authorities believe the suspects are aligned with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

A Moroccan-dominated cell carried out the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.

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