RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco said on Saturday it had dismantled an Islamist militant cell sending fighters to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State and mount attacks on returning home.
The cell, the latest of series of radical groups authorities say they have uncovered, had been active in the city of Meknes and the towns of El-Hajeb and El-Hoceima in the Northern Rif mountains, the interior ministry said in a statement.
It said the head of the cell had been in contact with Islamic State and had sent volunteers.
“According to intelligence reports, Moroccans fighting in Syria and Iraq have been trained in handling weapons and manufacturing explosives to perpetrate attacks once they return to Morocco,” the statement said.
“Some of the eight members of the cell have been convicted in other terrorism cases in the past.”
A Moroccan security source told Reuters the government thinks nearly 2,000 Moroccans have fought in Syria’s civil war and in Iraq with Islamic State.
“Some 200 have returned home and all of them were arrested, mainly at the airport when their flights landed,” the source said.
The North African kingdom has suffered attacks in the past by militants. In 2011 a blast in a cafe in Marrakesh killed 15 people including 10 foreigners. It was the worst attack since 2003, when suicide bombings killed more than 45 people in Casablanca.
Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Andrew Roche