Marrakesh bombing suspect denies all charges

Main suspect in the April 28 blast that killed 17 people in the Moroccan tourist hotspot tells court he was set up.

    Marrakesh bombing was the deadliest in the kingdom since attacks in Casablanca in 2003 that killed 33 people [EPA]

    The main suspect in a bomb attack that ripped through a Marrakesh cafe packed with European tourists five months ago has denied all charges against him.

    Adil El Othmani and eight alleged accomplices are accused of orchestrating the April 28 blast in Marrakesh's bustling Djemaa El-Fna square that killed 17 and wounded dozens more.

    El Othmani, who had initially admitted to his role in the bombing but later retracted his confession, told the court on Thursday that he had been set up.

    Facing a state prosecutor, El Othmani said he "had never made the explosives" that ripped through the cafe and denied ever going to Marrakesh, but he appeared hesitant when he was grilled on witness accounts that identified him on the day of the bombing.

    The nine suspects are accused of "seriously undermining public order, premeditated murder and laying an ambush, the possession of and making of explosives, and belonging to a banned religious group".

    When asked about his trips to Syria, Libya, Turkey and Iraq, El Othmani - who entered the court without handcuffs and smiled to his relatives gathered at the back of the hall - said they were all part of his plan for "illegal immigration".

    "I think now is when the real trial begins. It's a very complicated case," Abderrahmane El-Abidine, El Othmani's lawyer, said. The trial was adjourned for a week.

    Deadly bombing

    The victims, most of them tourists, included eight French nationals as well as citizens of Britain, Canada, Switzerland, Portugal and The Netherlands.

    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.

    The trial opened on June 30 but was then adjourned to August 18 and further postponed to September 22.

    When the suspects were presented to the court, the judge said that the attack "undermined Morocco's image in the entire world". Tourism is a major source of revenue for the north African country.

    Around 20 relatives of the victims were in Sale, just outside the capital Rabat, for the trial's resumption on Thursday.

    "They've been playing with us for four months, both the French and Moroccan judiciary," said Nadine Asnar, the mother of a French victim, who brought a picture of her murdered son Eric, 47, to court.

    "The French judiciary has forsaken us and it hasn't even filed a civil lawsuit," she complained.

    "Morocco wants this trial to wind up by the end of December, they want it to finish as quickly as possible because every time you talk about the attack, it doesn't do any good to the tourism industry," said Jacques Sombret, one of the French victims' father.

    'Irrefutable evidence'

    He argued that the attack revealed major cracks in Morocco's anti-terror surveillance system and said he expected the Moroccan court to convict the accused, "because they are barbarians".

    He insisted there was amble evidence against the defendants and that the case against El Othmani was "irrefutable".

    For their part, the suspects' relatives demanded the nine's release.

    "Free the innocents", "Our relatives are innocent, the truth is elsewhere", "All this is a masquerade", read some of the placards they brought into the courtroom.

    Security sources have alleged that El Othmani, wearing a wig and carrying a guitar, left two bags containing bombs on the cafe terrace and triggered the blasts with a mobile phone just after leaving.

    Police have described some of the suspects in the attack as "admirers of Al-Qaeda" and Moroccan authorities had initially blamed Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for the bombing.

    AQIM, behind a series of attacks and kidnappings in north Africa, denies responsibility.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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