Nine Kalashnikov rifles, two machine-guns, seven machine-pistols, 16 handguns and an arsenal of explosives and detonating devices were already seized earlier this week as 32 alleged members of the group were taken into custody on Monday and Tuesday.

Mustapha Moatassim, the party's secretary-general, was among those arrested.

Abdelhafid Sriti, correspondent for Al Manar television in Morocco, was also detained.
 

Mohamed Ayyadi, spokesperson for al-Badil al-Hadari, said: "For us, it is astonishing news because since we founded our party we have made it clear that democracy is our goal and we have proved that ... we were among the first parties to condemn al-Qaeda and the use of violence in politics."

Government charges

 

The detainees are accused of planning to kill senior army officers, government ministers and some Moroccan Jews, Chakib Benmoussa, the interior minister, announced on Wednesday.

 

He told a news conference: "The network has a two-pronged strategy: one for political activity, with al-Badil al-Hadari as its public face, and another clandestine focusing on military action.

 

"The network set up a military wing named Special Action Group."

 

Benmoussa said the party had links with an organisation called the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) and Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which last year changed its name to the Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb.

 

According to Benmoussa, the network had contacts with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001.

 

Police officer held

  

The 32 suspects also include a police officer and a journalist.

    

The allegations against Moatassim were the first levelled at a leader of a legal Islamist party.

Al-Badil al-Hadari was allowed to operate legally in Morocco. The party contested national elections in September.

 

Abbas El Fassi, the Moroccan prime minister, said in a statement that the decision to ban the party, was taken "on account of the proven links between the (dismantled) network and the creation of this party".

Government crackdown

Following a suicide attack in Casablanca in May 2003 that left 45 dead, Morocco adopted a law aimed at tackling extremist movements.

  

But the independent Le Soir paper noted it was the first time since then that leaders of Islamist parties had been arrested for suspected terrorist links in Morocco.

  

Two further bomb attacks in Casablanca followed in 2007, while there was an attempted suicide attack against foreign tourists in Meknes, east of Rabat, in August last year.

 

Morocco's government says it has broken up more than 60 cells of terror suspects since 2003. It has arrested more than 3,000 people in the process.