By Mawassi Lahcen
Morocco is seeking the extradition of a group of several prisoners detained in Iraq for joining jihadist groups and taking part in terrorist acts.
In response to a question by the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) April 16th in Parliament, Moroccan Foreign Minister Saadeddine El Othmani said that the kingdom proposed to Iraqi authorities that they deport Moroccan prisoners, allowing them to spend the rest of their terms in Morocco as part of the Arab Judicial Co-operation Agreement.
El Othmani noted that Morocco requested the Iraqi authorities reduce death penalties issued against some prisoners to imprisonment terms, that they improve their detention conditions and allow the Moroccan ambassador in Baghdad and their families to visit them.
The execution of Moroccan inmate Badr al-Ashour in Iraq on October 27th, 2011 has pushed the case of Moroccan prisoners in Iraq to the forefront. The families of Moroccan prisoners in Iraq began to act, fearing that their sons could face the same fate.
A group of families joined with the human rights group al-Karama, which is close to Justice and Development Party (PJD), to create the “Co-ordination of Families of Moroccan Prisoners and Missing Nationals in Iraq”.
“We started with four families in Tangier, but now the co-ordination has more than 10 families that have prisoners in Iraq,” said Abdelaziz Bakkali, head of the group. “Four families that have missing and unaccounted for sons in Iraq have recently contacted us.”
Bakkali said that since the October execution, “families have been under a tremendous psychological pressure”, with fears their sons accused of terrorism could meet the same fate.
Abdelaziz Bakkali said that his brother, Abdelsalam Bakkali, has been under arrest in Iraq since the end of 2003.
Abdelsalam was a football player with a local team in Tangier. In 2003, he withdrew from the club and told his friends that he would emigrate and join a European football club. However, everyone was surprised with the news of his arrest in Iraq weeks after he disappeared from Tangier, standing accused of belonging to terrorist groups.
Abdelaziz added that his brother, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, has served his term and was expected to be deported to Morocco after his release in 2010.
“However, the Iraqi authorities didn’t release him. Instead, they reopened his file and re-conducted investigations to re-try him,” he said. “We were very surprised when my brother appeared on al-Arabiya television and confessed that he is the leader of a terrorist group affiliated to al-Zarqawi. The signs of torture were clearly visible on his face, which was swollen with blue spots on it.”
According to the co-ordination group, the number of Moroccan prisoners in Iraq is estimated at 12, the same number cited by the foreign minister in Parliament. However, the Iraqi Ambassador in Rabat said last December that there were only nine Moroccan prisoners.
El Othmani said that one prisoner was sentenced to death with stay, another had his death penalty reduced to life imprisonment by the Iraqi authorities, while four others were handed imprisonment terms ranging from 5 to 20 years. He added that there are seven Moroccan prisoners with Belgian citizenship and that he didn’t have data on their penalties or the charges made against them.
Radhwan Eloshen’s brother Mohamed was among those sentenced to death in Iraq. Radhwan said the family last heard from him in 2006. Then the Red Cross contacted them to let them know that their son has been detained in Iraq since 2007.
“There is no direct contact with my brother,” Radhwan said. “However, we received a message from him April 17th through the Red Cross in which he asked about the news of family and his son, 11, whom he hasn’t seen in six years.”
Radhwan said that the main demand of the family was not to execute their relative and to bring him back to Morocco to be near them. He added that the families wanted their sons to spend the rest of their terms in prisons close to home.