Morocco has successfully broken up a militant Islamist cell sending fighters to Mali, according to a government statement. The announcement comes as concern rises that Mali could become a key base for al Qaeda.
Morocco's Interior Minister said Saturday that his country's security forces had broken up a militant cell that was training young men and sending them to fight for organizations with links to al Qaeda in Mali.
The minister said in a statement Saturday that the cell, operating in the cities of Casablanca, Nador, Laayoune, Guercif and Kalaat Sraghna, had brainwashed over 20 Moroccans with al Qaeda ideology and dispatched them to northern Mali via Algeria. Once there, they joined one of two organizations with al Qaeda ties: Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
One individual had been caught attempting to return to Morocco with the intention of carrying out acts of sabotage, according to the statement.
Morocco, a Western ally, frequently says it has dismantled al Qaeda-inspired militant cells.
European leaders are becoming increasingly concerned that Mali could become a platform for terrorist attacks, including those aimed at Europe.
Mali has been in turmoil since a coup in March provided an opportunity for the MNLA, a separatist Tuareg group, to declare an independent Tuareg state in the north of the country. The MNLA has since lost control of the territory to Islamists and criminal groups. Earlier this week, MUJWA, a rebel group tied to al Qaeda, forced the MNLA out of Menaka, which is close to the Niger border.
sej/rc (AP, Reuters)