Islamic militants pose such a serious threat to Morocco – home to most of the suspects in last year’s Madrid train bombings that the government there could be in jeopardy, a senior Spanish official warned on Tuesday.
Last summer, Spain’s leading anti-terror investigator told lawmakers investigating the attack that Morocco had up to 100 al-Qaida-linked cells capable of suicide attacks, posing Europe’s biggest terrorist threat.
Most of the 22 suspects jailed in the train bombings are Moroccan. Another Moroccan, identified as 21-year-old Jaouad el Bouzrouti and described as having links to the bombing’s ringleaders, was arrested Tuesday near his home in Fuenlabrada, a Madrid suburb.
“I believe that in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism, the political survival of Morocco and the Moroccan regime are stake,” the senior government official told reporters Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
The official said the Casablanca suicide bombings in May 2003, which struck a Spanish social club and other targets and killed 32 bystanders and 13 attackers, “were aimed at the political heart of the Moroccan political regime.”
Morocco’s government is among “those most interested in controlling and eventually defeating Islamic fundamentalism,” the official said. “It is a country that is trying to move towards modernity, to move toward democracy.”
The Moroccan government is one of the Muslim world’s closest U.S. allies, and Washington has routinely praised the country for its democratic changes under King Mohammed VI, who took the throne after the death of his father, King Hassan II, in 1999.
Moroccan authorities blamed the Casablanca attacks on al-Qaida and launched a crackdown on fundamentalist suspects, arresting more than 5,000 people. Most were released, but 700 remain behind bars and a small number face the death penalty – unused in Morocco since 1993.
Also Tuesday, a deeply divided panel of Spanish lawmakers probing the Madrid bombings – under intense pressure to produce results in time for Friday’s anniversary – approved preliminary recommendations on how to prevent another attack. The approval came after five of the panel’s 16 members refused to vote.
The Association of Victims of March 11 – which repeatedly has complained that Spanish media treat them like a “spectacle” and that politicians do not care about them – appealed to be left alone for private mourning on the anniversary.
The main act of homage will be a short, silent vigil in a park and the association will not even be represented at that.
“We implore you to respect our silence,” said the association’s president, Pilar Manjon, who lost her 20-year-old son Daniel in the bombing. “We don’t want to be a photo opportunity for anyone.”