Morocco arrests 35 recruiters for al Qaeda -agency

Wed Jul 2, 2008 1:00pm BST

RABAT, June 2 (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities have arrested 35 members of a gang suspected of sending volunteers to carry out suicide bombings for Al Qaeda in Iraq or to join Islamist rebels in Algeria, the state news agency MAP said on Wednesday.

Staunch U.S. ally Morocco is already holding some 1,000 Islamists in its jails on terrorism-related charges.

The government says it has broken up over 55 terrorist cells since 2003, when a chain of suicide bombings in the economic capital Casablanca killed 45 people.

MAP said the latest detainees, rounded up in several towns, were also suspected of planning attacks in Morocco, although it gave no further details.

"This network recruited and transported around 30 candidates for suicide operations in Iraq, and three volunteers to fight alongside AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in Algeria," MAP cited a unnamed police source as saying.

Last month a Moroccan court sentenced 29 people to prison terms of up to eight years for recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq and ideological links to Al Qaeda and the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (GICM).

Security analysts say rebels in Algeria with links to Al Qaeda are trying to step up cooperation with Islamist radicals in neighbouring states where poverty, unemployment and alienation from politics can be exploited by armed groups seeking to recruit disillusioned youths. (Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)