|Morocco - Moroccans slam Al-Qaeda threat|
|Thousands protest against decision to kill hostages in Iraq
Thousands marched through Morocco's biggest city on Sunday to protest Al-Qaeda's decision to kill two Moroccan hostages in Iraq. Holding banners and chanting "Muslims are brothers. A Muslim does not kill his brother" and "'Yes' to freedom, 'No' to terrorism and barbarity," the protesters marched through Casablanca, a city of six million and Morocco's financial capital.
Al-Qaeda has said it decided to kill the Moroccan Embassy employees, Abdel-Rahim Boualem and Abdel-Karim al-Mouhafidi because of Morocco's support for the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.
Top Moroccan officials, ministers, pro-government and opposition party leaders and trade unions and rights groups, led the protest to put pressures on Al-Qaeda to free the two men.
Some members of Islamist parties which back Iraqi insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces in Iraq also joined the march.
"All Moroccans are with Iraq, all Moroccans are innocent," the marchers chanted.
Morocco's influential organization of Islamic scholars, known as the High Council of the Ulema and the Councils of Ulema in the Moroccan Kingdom, said Al-Qaeda members in Iraq will suffer the "horrors of hell" if they kill the Moroccan hostages and the victims will die as martyrs. It dismissed Al-Qaeda's argument that its verdict to kill the two embassy employees was "God's judgment."
"The two Moroccans would be considered martyrs if this iniquitous verdict were to be carried out as they were carrying out a duty assigned to them by their nation and legitimate state," it said on Saturday.
Organizers and local government officials said more than 150,000 people took part in the peaceful march while reporters said the anti-Al-Qaeda protesters numbered more than 10,000.
Moroccan media, trade unions, human rights activists and state officials have issued appeals to save the two men's lives and a mass demonstration is planned in Casablanca on Sunday.
The terror group said last week it had decided to kill the two hostages after it sentenced them to death over Morocco's support for the U.S.-backed Baghdad government. It also called on diplomats in Baghdad to "pack their bags and leave" or face certain death.
But the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said its embassy would not succumb to "blackmail," particularly "coming from a terrorist group which cannot claim to represent Iraq."
It said Al-Qaeda "is attempting shamefully to justify (the killings) with so-called religious references and false political considerations."
Morocco also demands "the immediate and unconditional release" of the hostages, the ministry added.
Boualem, 55, a driver and father of three, and Mouhafidi, an agent aged 49, are married to Iraqis and have lived in the country for around 20 years.
Appearing on Al-Arabiyya television on Saturday, the hostages' wives cried and clutched family photos, urging Iraq's most feared insurgent group to free the two men.
"I plead with my brothers, the Muslim mujahideen in the name of the Islamic law, and in the name of justice because Abdel-Karim was a religious man," said Mouhafidi's wife Leqaa Abbas.
An Al-Arabiyya reporter said that Abbas, an Iraqi citizen, is three months pregnant.
Al-Arabiyya said Nahda Ali, Boualem's wife, was blind.
Looking into the camera, she said her husband had taken the job at the Moroccan Embassy because they were poor and needed the money.
"He used to work as a taxi driver, but then I got sick and life became difficult," she told the television station. "We have three children, so he said he'll take a job at the embassy."
Boualem's two sons and daughter also were shown on television, all of them crying.
"I only want my father back. I want nothing else," 8-year-old Mustafa said before he broke down in tears as his mother, her arm around him, also sobbed.
Casablanca,11 07 2005
The Daily Star