Police arrest French citizen suspected of links to suicide bombings


Tuesday, June 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


RABAT, Morocco (AP) -- Moroccan police arrested a French citizen wanted in connection with last month's deadly suicide bombings, the first foreign suspect in the attacks authorities believe were linked to the al-Qaida terror network.

After a manhunt, Robert Antoine-Pierre, 28, was taken into custody Tuesday in the northern city of Tangiers, where he had been living with his Moroccan wife, security officials said.

Police began searching for Antoine-Pierre after several other suspects in the Casablanca bombings pointed to him, claiming he gave orders in the attacks, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Antoine-Pierre is the first non-Moroccan implicated in the series of five nearly simultaneous suicide attacks on May 16 that targeted Jewish and Spanish sites in Morocco's largest city, as well as a major hotel. The bombings left 43 dead, including 12 suicide bombers, all Moroccans.

Dozens of Moroccans have since been detained.

Authorities in the North African kingdom have said they are certain an international terrorism ring was behind the attacks. Until they began hunting for Antoine-Pierre, however, they had offered no information to back up claims that non-Moroccans were involved.

Antoine-Pierre, also known as "Lhaj" and as "Abou Abderrahmane," was identified as armed and dangerous in a notice handed out at border crossings and police stations throughout Morocco. The circumstances of his arrest were not immediately made public.

The suspect converted to Islam and had been living in Tangiers since 1996. He and his wife have two children, the officials said.

Antoine-Pierre, originally from the area near Lyon in central France, was known to French intelligence officials for his involvement in radical Islam, authorities said.

Officials believe he traveled frequently, making trips to Afghanistan, Germany, Spain and Turkey, officials said.

They also believe Antoine-Pierre was in contact with Abdelwaheb Rafiki, also known as Abou Hafs, a Moroccan Islamic cleric known for his fiery sermons and anti-Western views.

The cleric has been in jail for months on charges of "inciting violence." He is believed to be a leader of a homegrown Muslim extremist group, Salafia Jihadia.

Investigators have been probing the relationship between the Casablanca bombers and extremists groups like Salafia Jihadia, suspected of ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

The newspaper Aujourd'hui le Maroc reported the Casablanca bombers are believed to have started preparing the attacks in late 2002.

The suicide attacks in Morocco came four days after bombings at foreign housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killed 35 people, including nine attackers.