Morocco arrests website editor for airing Al-Qaeda video

AFP – Morocco on Tuesday arrested a news website’s editor and threatened legal action against Spanish newspaper El Pais for posting an Al-Qaeda video it said incites terrorism in the kingdom.

Ali Anouzla, the director of Lakome’s Arabic language version, was arrested at his office in Rabat mid-morning, with police also seizing computer equipment, journalists working at the website said.

His arrest was ordered following the publication by Lakome of “a video attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), containing a clear call and a direct incitement to commit acts of terrorism” in Morocco, the public prosecutor said in a statement.

Later in the day, Morocco’s justice ministry said the government had also decided to take legal action against the Spanish newspaper El Pais for having posted the same video on its website.

Justice Minister Mustafa Ramid contacted his Spanish counterpart Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon to express Rabat’s concern about the move by Spain’s leading centre-left newspaper, the ministry said.

By early evening, the Moroccan journalist was being held in police custody in Casablanca, his lawyer said.

He risks prosecution under Morocco’s anti-terrorism laws.

The 41-minute video, posted on the Internet last Thursday by AQIM and entitled “Morocco: the kingdom of corruption and despotism,” calls for jihad in the north African country and lashes out at King Mohamed VI, who is pictured being engulfed in flames.

It is thought to be the first of its kind singling out the Moroccan monarchy since AQIM, the jihadist network’s north African franchise, was created in 2007.

The YouTube version of the video was removed, with the site saying it breached the company’s policy on violence.

Lakome, a popular, independent website which publishes in French and Arabic and often criticises the authorities, issued a statement condemning Anouzla’s arrest.

It called the decision by the public prosecutor “excessive in more ways than one,” and insisted the website had clearly stated from the beginning that the video was “propaganda.”

“Even the act of broadcasting an AQIM video is a common practice among the international media,” Lakome said.

Anouzla is an experienced journalist formerly with pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat who is known for taking a critical position towards state institutions, including the monarchy, effectively a taboo subject in the Moroccan media, and has been prosecuted in the past.

Journalists plan to hold a sit-in outside the police headquarters where he is being held to call for his release.

Lakome’s decision to carry a link to the video had already drawn sharp criticism from Morocco’s mostly pro-regime media.

French-language daily L’Opinion called it “totally reprehensible,” accusing the website of ensuring that a video message supporting terrorism “receives the widest possible audience.”

The country’s national press union stressed its commitment to freedom of expression, while adding that “this freedom should be used with respect for the ethics of the profession, and refrain from publishing anything that could incite violence.”

Morocco has suffered a number of attacks by Islamist militants over the past decade, notably in Casablanca in 2003, when 12 suicide bombers blew themselves up killing 33 people, and at a cafe in Marrakesh two years ago, when 17 people lost their lives.

But these incidents have been isolated, and the authorities have been at pains to describe the country, which depends heavily on tourism revenues, as an exception in the Arab world in terms of security and political stability.

They also regularly announce the dismantling of jihadist cells with links to Al-Qaeda.

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