Agence France Press/AFP (Rabat, Morocco, Dec. 25, 2012) – Moroccan authorities on Tuesday said they had broken up a recruitment cell for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in the central Fez region, after announcing the discovery of a jihadist network last month.
“The police, in co-ordination with the leadership of territorial surveillance, have dismantled a cell with six members, originating from the city of Fez,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
The aim of the cell was to “enroll and recruit young Moroccans who have embraced jihadist ideas, in order to send them to camps of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) in Algeria,” it added.
Among those arrested was a “former prisoner detained under the anti-terrorism law,” who had been “extradited from Algeria in 2005 after he attempted to join the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat [GSPC]“.
AQIM, the global terror network’s north African branch, evolved from the GSPC, a breakaway group of militant Algerian Islamists who refused to lay down their weapons when Algeria’s civil war ended.
Last month, the Moroccan authorities said they had dismantled several “terrorist” cells that were planning to attack strategic targets in the kingdom. Magharebia reported that Morocco seized the suspects in Casablanca, Laayoune, Nador, Guercif and Kelaat Sraghna, accusing them of sending more than 20 young Moroccans into Algeria to join al-Qaeda and the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad (MUJAO) in northern Mali.
AFP said more than 2,000 Islamists were arrested and sentenced after 2003 suicide bomb attacks in Morocco’s second city of Casablanca that killed 45 people including the 12 attackers.
In November, European researchers at the Monitoring Centre for Organised Crime (OPCO) released a study that said jihadists from al-Qaeda and affiliated groups now number between 8,000 and 14,000 in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel and North Africa. Magharebia reported the study warned these numbers are expected to double in a year or two if no action is taken in northern Mali, where al-Qaeda-linked groups have established a safe haven and are attracting recruits from across the region.