( AFP ) - A Moroccan court sentenced 51 Islamists of the Ansar El Mahdi group to between two and 25 years in jail Friday for plotting to overthrow the government here and install an Islamist regime.
Main suspect Hassan Khattab was given 25 years behind bars. He was accused of leading the group, which was charged with forming a criminal gang to "prepare and commit terrorist attacks" and for posing a threat to public order.
Prosecutors said the cell -- which included five members of the military, four policemen and four women -- planned to take over an area in the Rif mountains and use that as a base to overthrow the Rabat government.
Moroccan authorities broke up the cell in August 2006, sparking the dismissal of several members of the country's security services.
The anti-terrorist court in Sale, near the capital Rabat, sentenced the four women to five years each in prison, while the others were handed jail terms of between two and 20 years. One suspect was acquitted of all charges.
The prosecution had called for the maximum penalty for the accused, and a lawyer for one of the jailed women, Mohamed Tarek Sbai, told AFP the sentences were "very severe". He said the evidence against the suspects was inconclusive.
Another detainee's lawyer, Abdelfettah Zahrach, said he was surprised at the verdict, noting that "even in Madrid where terrorist acts were carried out (in 2004, killing 191 people), such sentences were not delivered".