Five held in Morocco 'planned to strike warships'

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The Independent Online

Islamic terrorist suspects arrested in Morocco were planning suicide attacks on British and American warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, security sources said yesterday.

Islamic terrorist suspects arrested in Morocco were planning suicide attacks on British and American warships in the Strait of Gibraltar, security sources said yesterday.

The allegation came as authorities in Morocco detained two women they claim were acting as couriers for Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida organisation. The women are married to two of the three Saudi nationals being held by the Moroccans for allegedly attempting to organise the bombing of Western ships in the Strait of Gibraltar using an inflatable dinghy packed with explosives.

The operation is said to have been modelled on the attack on the American destroyer USS Cole in October 2000 in Yemen, when two bombers rammed a dinghy into its side, killing themselves and 17 sailors.

The alleged plot was uncovered by the Moroccan security service with help from other agencies in north Africa. British and American intelligence only became involved when they were told that their ships were targets.

The three Saudi men, who are aged between 25 and 35, were arrested a month ago and are being held in Casablanca.

A Moroccan official, speaking at Skhirat, 15 miles south of Rabat, said: "Morocco's security services have dismantled a network of al-Qa'ida who planned attacks on US and British warships. It was a successful operation."

In Washington, a US intelligence official said: "We have been aware of the plan to attack shipping."

A senior security source in London said: "The investigation was carried out by the Moroccans themselves, and our understanding is that this was a serious and potentially a very dangerous plot. The Strait of Gibraltar does have a large amount of Western shipping going through it as well as smaller craft, and there is the possibility of such an attack."

The nuclear submarine HMS Tireless was under repair at Gibraltar for more than a year. HMS Sheffield, a type-22 frigate, is at present on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean.

In a separate development, a Moroccan secret service agent claimed he warned his bosses last summer that al-Qa'ida was plotting a "spectacular" in New York after he infiltrated the terror group for two years. Hassan Dabou was reportedly flown to Washington to work with US intelligence agents shortly before the 11 September attacks.

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