Suspects on trial over Morocco cafe bombing

AP News
Posted: Jun 30, 2011 12:46 PM
Suspects on trial over Morocco cafe bombing

Seven people went on trial in Morocco Thursday for the bombing of a Marrakech tourist cafe that killed 17, one of the worst terrorist acts to hit the North African kingdom.

The proceedings were postponed until Aug. 18 to allow lawyers for both the victims and the defense more time to prepare. Both sides pleaded their cases on Thursday's opening day.

The April 28 explosion tore through the Argana cafe in Marrakech's old town, a popular tourist destination. Several of those killed were foreigners.

Defense lawyers asked that the suspects be released pending the next court session, but the court refused.

The defense lawyers also complained about the conditions of detention, comparing them to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo. The prosecutor responded angrily that the claim was exaggerated.

The chief suspect, Adel Othmani, appeared relaxed in the courtroom, and turned several times to wave and smile at family members. He was arrested three days after the explosion, and Moroccan police say he has loyalties to al-Qaida and tried to travel to Iraq and Chechnya.

Families of the suspects staged a protests in front of the court, complaining that they had not been able to visit their loved ones behind bars.

Among the charges facing the suspects are premeditated murder, explosives possession, and membership in a banned religious group, according to the state news agency MAP.

The dead included Moroccan, French, British, Swiss and Portuguese victims.

The attack shook relatively peaceful Morocco, a staunch U.S. ally that drew nearly 10 million tourists last year to its sandy beaches, desert and mountain landscapes, and historic sites.

The blast came several weeks after King Mohamed VI promised constitutional reforms to shepherd in more democracy amid a push across the Arab world. Moroccans vote in a referendum on the reforms Friday.