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Fourteen hours of Morocco jail mutiny ends, but security forces still vigilant

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Mutiny at a Moroccan prison, which started on Sunday ended after 14 hours of clashes between prisoners from radical Salafist branch of Islam and security forces, Al Arabiya reported from Rabat.

The protest, which convulsed the jail in Sale, witnessed Salafist inmates climbing the jail’s roof demanding to be pardoned or have their cases reviewed.

Al Arabiya learnt that at least 50 members from the security forces have been injured as well as dozens of the detainees.

The authorities, however, are still trying to control the situation by having a helicopter circling low over the prison with security operations still ongoing in Zaki Prison, which is located northeast of the capital, Rabat.

A security official, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Agence-France Presse, “The situation was brought under control at the end of the morning. One policeman was wounded and taken to hospital. His life is not in danger. About 34 Salafists surrendered at the end of the morning.”

Security forces intervened on Monday afternoon to break up a rally by Salafist prisoners who sought to protest about their conditions of detention, and clashes broke out. The fighting went on overnight, but authorities said Tuesday that the situation “seems to have calmed down.”

“Tear gas grenades and rubber bullets were used this morning by police forces who confronted the detainees inside the prison and even on the roof,” a witness said.

“There is a climate of total anarchy in this prison, which houses more than 200 Salafist detainees,” according to Abderrahim Mouhtad, the head of the Annassir association, which defends Salafist prisoners’ rights.

“Clearly the prison administration intends to take back control of the situation and adopt firmer tactics than before,” Mr. Mouhtad told AFP.

Meanwhile, according to Reuters, the inmates took five guards hostage. The guards were subsequently released. Officials said.

“The inmates used iron bars and stones ... to attack the guards,” Reuters reported the state news agency MAP as saying.

Prison authorities used tear gas and truncheons on Monday in a bid to quash the protest by about 300 Islamists, most of who are convicted of plotting attacks or supporting violence.

Some 39 people were injured including 19 members of the security forces and five prison guards on Monday, said a doctor at the hospital in Sale.

Citing eyewitnesses, the MAP official news agency said Monday that the security forces “intervened to establish order”, and added “eight members of the security forces and prison warders were slightly wounded during the course of this intervention”.

Human right activists blame authorities for sparking the unrest by trying to transfer the most vocal prisoners out of Zaki and confiscate cell phones with cameras.

The Goud.ma news portal said the security forces fired rubber bullets to tame the protest at Zaki prison. The portal is usually well informed on security matters.

Independent news portal Lakome.ma showed pictures of what it said was one inmate at Zaki with a rubber bullet wound to the back of his neck.

It also published videos showing at least eight inmates in prisons in Tangier and Kenitra with nooses around their necks threatening to commit suicide.

King Mohammed last month freed about 100 prisoners, most of whom were members of the Salafist Jihadi group, in what human right officials, appointed by the monarch, said was the prelude to a review of cases of political prisoners.

Zaki is an allegedly a secret prison, witnessed the mutiny breaking out after a day when security forces broke up a march by attacking dozens of human rights activists with truncheons and tear gas.

Several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have alleged human rights violations are committed at the secret center.

According to HRW, people suspected of terrorism, including Islamists, have been tortured there especially after the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca that left 44 dead including 13 suicide bombers.

At least 324 people accused of belonging to an Islamic militant group are detained at Zaki. Some were detained after the Casablanca suicide attack.

(Dina Al-Shibeeb, an editor at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: Dina.ibrahim@mbc.net)