|The attack in April was the deadliest Morocco has experienced for years [Reuters]
A Moroccan court has issued a death sentence for a man who was the mastermind behind a bomb attack that killed 17 people, mostly foreign tourists, in the city of Marrakesh in April.
On Friday, the court in Rabat convicted 25-year-old Adel Othmani, who was the leader of a group of nine men that carried out the bombing on April 28, of organising the attack on the Argana cafe.
The court handed down a life prison term for Othmani's associate, Hakim Dah, and gave four-year terms for four other defendants charged with having knowledge of the crime, on Friday. Three were given two-year prison terms.
It was the first death penalty issued in Morocco since 1992.
Eight French nationals, three Swiss citizens, and three Moroccans were among the 17 people who were killed in a cafe in Marrakesh's Djemaa El-Fna square.
According to security sources, Othmani left two bags containing bombs on the cafe terrace and triggered the explosion with a mobile phone.
He insisted he had never made explosive devices and even denied ever going to Marrakesh but appeared hesitant when he was grilled on witness accounts that identified him on the day of the bombing.
"It's scandalous", said Jacques Sombret, who pointed out that some of the accused thanked the court for the sentences. "The world will laugh at your justice. Morocco betrayed me," said Sombret, whose 40-year-old daughter, a mother of two, was also killed.
Isabelle Dewally, whose ten-year-old daughter Camilla was killed in the attacks, said: "It is unacceptable and intolerable to sentence the accomplices to only four years in prison".
"This means that you can help a terrorist murderer and get only four years."
In a closing hearing on Thursday, Othmani's lawyer insisted his client was innocent and that he only confessed after being coerced.
| Friday's ruling provoked outrage among
some victims' relatives [AFP]
When the verdict against him was read out, Othmani's sister began shouting, preventing the judge from reading the verdicts of the other defendants. She then fainted.
Lawyers representing some of the victims had previously asked the court not to issue death penalties, saying the accused should be given life instead, partly to deprive them of boasting that they will die as martyrs.
Othmani's lawyer argued that Moroccan courts should no longer be condemning people to death, as the country's new constitution, massively backed in a July referendum, invokes the "right to life".
"I am surprised that the court continues to pronounce death penalties as the kingdom has de facto abolished it. This sentence remains in the law, but it must not be issued while it is moving towards elimination," he said
The Marrakesh bombing was the deadliest in the north African kingdom since attacks in the coastal city of Casablanca in 2003 which killed 33 people and 12 suicide bombers.
Police described some of the convicts in the Marrakesh attack as "admirers of al-Qaeda" and Moroccan authorities had initially blamed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for the bombing.
AQIM, accused of being behind a series of attacks and kidnappings in north Africa, denies responsibility.