New information in Belliraj case sparks official review in Belgium
Sarah Touahri and Naoufel Cherkaoui for Magharebia in Rabat – 03/03/08
Revelations that Abdelkader Belliraj, the alleged mastermind of the terrorist network dismantled by Moroccan authorities on February 18th, worked for eight years as an informant for the Belgian security services have prompted a flurry of investigative activity on two continents.
With the investigation still under way into the Belliraj cell, the Moroccan interior ministry is not yet discussing details of the case. However, Moroccan Minister of the Interior Chakib Benmoussa said Saturday that Belgian intelligence clearly "knew" Abdelkader Belliraj, though he added the terrorist was "apparently a master of deception". He pointed out that Belliraj was also clever at hiding, having lived in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Algeria, among members of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), in 2005.
The news uncovered by the Belgian press prompted a flurry of activity in the Belgian government. Justice Minister Jo Vandeurzen stated Friday (February 29th) in a communiqué that he "immediately asked the Comité R [Permanent Intelligence Oversight Committee] to launch an inquiry into the way in which the intelligence services went about gathering and processing information in this case. I now await the outcome of the inquiry."
Belgian security personnel conducted a search of Belliraj's home last Tuesday, though no results have been revealed to the public. Local newspapers reported that police had searched the house and garden with advanced equipment, and notes and computers had been seized.
The press also indicated that Moroccan investigators may be included in subsequent searches, under a law enforcement information-sharing arrangement between the two countries.
Belliraj and 34 others were remanded into custody in the Salé prison on Friday, following a 14-hour preliminary hearing. Six politicians implicated in the affair have a team of fifteen lawyers to represent them. "The charges against them are very serious," said lawyer Abderrahim Jamai.
Benmoussa said that the group smuggled the largest weapons cache to be discovered in 15 years into Morocco, in two batches. "The weapons were brought from Belgium by other Moroccan citizens residing in that country. They entered the country concealed in trucks through Ceuta and Mellila, before they were hidden in caches in Casablanca and Nador," he explained.
Members of parliament met with Benmoussa on Friday to discuss the investigation and ensure transparency. The interior minister promised deputies that the investigation would be carried out in compliance with all legal requirements, but also used the opportunity to advocate the reform of the country's current anti-terrorism legislation.
Minister for Parliamentary Relations Mohamed Saad Alami said that by working closely together and eschewing political one-upmanship, deputies and government officials will succeed in overcoming extremism.
The Moroccan public is following the case closely. Although there is unanimous agreement that terrorism is unacceptable, many feel the accused politicians should not be assumed to be guilty until the facts of the case are clearer. Teacher Saida Mahjoubi told Magharebia that it is too early to judge anyone. "Personally I find it difficult to believe that well-known politicians could have been involved in acts of terrorism. The courts must act in a transparent manner so that the public is reassured."
IT worker Hamid Radi agreed: "The government claims to have evidence. It must reveal this to the public so that we can understand exactly what happened."
Last updated 18/10/2008