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CIA helps defuse al Qaeda bomb plot in Morocco

CASABLANCA, Morocco (CNN) -- Moroccan intelligence agents located a suspected al Qaeda sleeper cell this week based on information provided them by the CIA and stopped the planned bombing of U.S. and British warships, a senior Moroccan official said Sunday.

The CIA information came from a suspected al Qaeda member in custody at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the official said.

Security agents found manuals for using weapons and making bombs, but no weapons or explosives, when they arrested three Saudi Arabian men and their three Moroccan wives as suspects in a plot to blow up U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, the official said. The suspects are alleged to have conspired to sail dinghies filled with explosives to the ships in an attempt to blow them up.

All are now under arrest and under interrogation in Morocco.

According to the official, a suspected al Qaeda member held at in Guantanamo Bay told CIA agents about members of al Qaeda who were active in Morocco, but gave few details other than one suspect's first name -- Zuhair.

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

The information was passed on to Moroccan agents, who focused on two heavily populated districts in Rabat and Casablanca. They narrowed their probe to the three Saudis and the Moroccans who were living in Casablanca.

The six are expected to make a formal court appearance early next week.

According to officials, the Saudi men entered Morocco and set themselves up as businessmen, opening bank accounts and businesses in the export and tourism sector. The men were aided by Abu Omar, a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, a senior government official said earlier this week.

The three men, ranging in age from 25 to 35, all married Moroccan women in a union called "oursi," a marriage not legally binding but one that confers a legal status that could have helped the men establish credentials as businessmen.

Officials say the men opened an al Qaeda "sleeper" cell, recruiting Muslims to go to Afghanistan and to train with al Qaeda terrorists. Moroccan security sources say the women were believed to be acting as couriers to al Qaeda members in Morocco, collecting and transferring funds, and that they may have purchased the dinghies intended for the planned attacks.

The Moroccan official says that when security forces arrested the suspects, they found weapons manuals and bomb-making manuals, but no weapons or explosives. When the men were arrested, they were preparing to leave the country on orders from an undisclosed source outside Morocco, an official said.




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