SALE, Morocco (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities said on Tuesday they had foiled a planned suicide attack on Oct. 7 parliamentary elections after the arrest of a suspected Islamic State militant cell of 10 women earlier this week.
The Interior Ministry said on Monday that for the first time a group of female suspects had been arrested, the latest in series of militant cells the North African kingdom says it has broken up.
Morocco is holding a parliamentary election on Friday in which the Islamist PJD party is favored to win after five years leading the ruling coalition in a constitutional monarchy where the king remains the ultimate authority.
“One of the women was seeking more visibility and was planning an operation on the election day,” Abdelhak Khayyam, head of Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), the judicial arm of the domestic intelligence service, told reporters in Rabat.
“It was a suicide attack and we found bomb-making materials,” he said, without giving further details.
Khayam said that among those arrested were four teenagers and some had already married Islamic State militants in Syria on the internet. The cell was operating in several Moroccan regions including the cities of Kenitra and Tangier, authorities said.
The interior ministry said the arrest of the women reflected an Islamic State effort to involve female militants in attacks in the kingdom. It said they were inspired by the brother of one of them who was involved in bombings in Iraq earlier this year.
The BCIJ has actively tracked alleged militants since Islamic State seized large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014-2015.
Hundreds of fighters from Morocco and Maghreb neighbors Tunisia and Algeria have joined Islamist militant forces in Syria’s civil war. Some are threatening to return and create new jihadist wings in their home countries, security experts say.
Nearby Libya has also become a major draw for jihadists from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as Islamic State has taken advantage of widespread chaos there to build a base, operate training camps and take over the city of Sirte.
The Moroccan government believes 1,500 Moroccan nationals are fighting with militants in Syria and Iraq. About 220 have returned home and been jailed, while 286 have been killed in battle.
Morocco, an ally in the Western campaign against Islamist militancy, has suffered attacks itself in the past, most recently in 2011 in Marrakesh when an explosion tore through a cafe and killed 15 people, mostly foreigners.
Editing by Patrick Markey