The trial of a Frenchman accused of being the ringleader of an Islamist group blamed for the suicide bombings in Morocco's city of Casablanca in May was to begin on Monday.
Pierre Robert, aged 31, was arrested early June near Tangiers, northern Morocco, in a police swoop following the May 16 attacks which left 44 people dead, including 12 suicide bombers.
Also known as Abou Abderrahmane Yacoubi, Robert is being tried along with 33 co-defendants on charges of "criminal conspiracy" and "conspiracy to undermine internal state security", along with "premeditated homicide" and "possession of arms and explosives", according to AFP.
If found guilty, he could face the death penalty.
According to the prosecutor's office, the Frenchman was "the crucial link" between militant cells in Tangiers, Fez, Casablanca and elsewhere in the north African kingdom.
Robert and his 33 Moroccan "accomplices" allegedly formed "armed and well-organized criminal bands within Salafia Jihadia," the banned Islamic movement suspected of being behind the Casablanca bombings.
According to an initial statement given by Robert, he converted to Islam at the age of 17 and travelled to Turkey, Iran and Pakistan - where he reportedly received instructions in using weapons and making bombs.
Living with his wife in Tangiers, Robert reportedly made contact with various Islamist leaders in Morocco.
He also reportedly carried out a bank robbery in France, and hoped to carry out "martyr's acts" against an oil refinery, a synagogue and trucks carrying plutonium with help from others.
Robert reportedly decided on taking action in Morocco after he failed to recruit martyrs for his French plans.
Robert did not mention the Casablanca targets, but instead reportedly said that his targets were the Moroccan secret service Headquarters, a casino in Tangiers, dams, a police station and a supermarket, also in Tangiers.
He also reportedly wanted to attack police in the northern Chefchaouen region, with the hope of forming an indpendent Islamist state there. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )