Moroccan king attends prayers led by reformed Salafi-jihadist

King Mohammed VI freed scores of Muslim extremists jailed in connection with the Casablanca attacks

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A reformed Moroccan Salafi-jihadist sheikh, jailed for life over the 2003 Casablanca bombings, led Friday prayers in the king’s presence in Tangiers, a first since receiving a royal pardon in 2011.

King Mohammed VI freed scores of Muslim extremists jailed in connection with the Casablanca attacks after Arab Spring protests swept the country in 2011, among them four radical Salafist leaders including Mohammed Fizazi.

Rights activists and family members say hundreds more Islamists who have never supported any jihadist ideology remain behind bars.

The king took part in Friday prayers at Fizazi’s mosque in Tangiers and spoke to him briefly afterwards, with the symbolic event broadcast live on state television.

During his sermon, Fizazi praised the king for strengthening the security and stability of the country, which he said were needed to practise one’s faith.

Once considered a leader of Morocco’s Salafi-jihadist movement who became radicalised in the late 1990s, he also travelled and preached in Europe, notably at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, which was frequented by key figures in the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Fizazi was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his “ideological” role in the 2003 suicide bombings, which killed 33 people.

He condemned the Casablanca attacks during his trial and was freed eight years later after distancing himself from the hardline Islamist movement.

Morocco is a popular tourist destination that prides itself on being a moderate Muslim country.

The authorities have strenuously cultivated this image since 2003, with the king promoting tolerant Sufi beliefs and practices as a way of countering radical Islamist ideology.

For this same purpose, Rabat has signed accords with a number of African countries in the region, including Mali, Libya and Tunisia, to train hundreds of imams.

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