RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Moroccan security forces dismantled a cell recruiting young men to fight with al-Qaida-linked groups in northern Mali, the Interior Ministry said Saturday.
The statement said that a group operating across the country were inculcating young men with "al-Qaida" ideology and then smuggling them across the closed border with Algeria from where they headed to Mali for military training.
The men would then join either al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or its offshoot, The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, which have taken control over much of northern Mali.
Northern Mali fell to Islamist extremists in April, after coup leaders toppled the government in Bamako, Mali's capital. France has been pushing for a military intervention by Mali's army, bolstered by other African troops, to drive the Islamists from power.
Both al-Qaida-linked groups are reported to consist largely of foreign fighters from North Africa and elsewhere across the Islamic world and have kidnapped and ransomed dozens of Westerners.
The statement added that one of the Moroccans fighters had been sent back to Morocco to carry out sabotage and was arrested.
A Malian living in Morocco that had been in contact with one of the groups was also arrested. The statement did not elaborate how many people had been detained in total.
Morocco frequently announces dismantling small cells planning terrorist attacks inspired by al-Qaida, but the terror network is not believed to have a real presence in this North African kingdom of 32 million people.
Early in the month, the government announced dismantling two other cells, one planning to set up a training camp in the northern mountains, another hoping to get in touch with al-Qaida and attack tourist sites.
Morocco's last major terrorist attack was in April 2011, when a bomb exploded in a cafe popular with tourists in Marrakech, killing 17.