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Wives arrested in Moroccan terror plot

RABAT, Morocco (CNN) -- The wives of two men suspected of a terror plot to blow up U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar have been arrested by Moroccan police, security officials said Tuesday.

These sources said the Moroccan women allegedly knew about their husbands' plans, were used as money couriers for al Qaeda and even purchased the dinghies that were to be used in the attack.

Morocco breaks terror cell 

One of the women was trying to hide explosives in her apartment when Moroccan security forces took her into custody, a senior Moroccan government official told CNN.

The two women were arrested Monday and are being questioned at the main detention center in Casablanca, along with their husbands and another man who was taking part in the alleged plot, the sources said.

The three men, all Saudi nationals ranging in age from 25 to 35, entered Morocco as tourists and were aided by Abu Omar -- a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden -- who helped facilitate their entry, the senior government official said.

The three men were arrested last month for allegedly planning to carry out terrorist attacks on U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar -- a plot that mirrored the attack on the USS Cole, officials said.

The three suspects melded into Moroccan society, living in poor and non-descript neighborhoods in Rabat and Casablanca. But they also were a "sleeper" al Qaeda cell, recruiting Muslims to go to Afghanistan to train with al Qaeda terrorists, officials said.

One official said the plot to attack the ships was made well before the September 11 terror attacks on the United States. The senior government official added that one of the men in custody was married to a Moroccan woman who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Officials also stressed the marriages were not recognized by Moroccan courts but were witnessed by two people -- which carries legal consequences in the country.

The official MAP news agency late Tuesday identified the three male suspects as Hilal Jaber Aouad al Assiri, Zuhair Hilal Mohamed al-Tbaiti and Abdullah M'Sfer Ali al-Ghamdi. The women's names were not released.

"The group was preparing for acts of violence ... against Western ships crossing the Strait of Gibraltar," MAP said.

MAP said Moroccan security services helped dismantle the al Qaeda cell with the aid of various international intelligence agencies, particularly those from the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The three suspects were allegedly planning to sail dinghies packed with explosives into U.S. and British ships in the Strait of Gibraltar, the government official said Monday. That alleged plot resembles the one carried out in October 2000, when two suicide bombers in an explosives-laden dinghy rammed the USS Cole destroyer in the port of Aden in Yemen, killing 17 sailors and wounding 37 others.


• Morocco breaks terror cell
June 11, 2002

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