RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has dismantled an Islamist militant cell led by a Spanish citizen that sent fighters to "hotbeds of tension" abroad, the interior ministry said on Friday.
Hundreds of fighters from Morocco and other Maghreb states like Tunisia and Algeria have joined Islamist-dominated rebel forces in Syria's civil war and North African governments fear they will pose security threats once they return home.
The latest cell was active in the north of Morocco, in the adjacent Spanish enclave of Melilla and in the city of Malaga in nearby southern Spain, the Moroccan interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official news agency MAP.
"The cell was dismantled in coordination with Spanish security forces," it said. "Three Moroccans were arrested at the same time as the (Spanish) head of the cell and his acolytes have been arrested by the Spanish security services." No details were given on the identity and number of suspects in Spain.
The chief of the cell was not named but the statement said he used to live in northern Morocco. It further said that he had close ties with a group linked to al Qaeda's North African wing, known as AQIM, and which was broken up last year as it planned to send militants to fight in Mali and Syria.
Morocco, a Western ally against Islamist militancy, often says it has broken up radical cells accused of plotting inside and outside the kingdom.
It has suffered numerous bomb attacks by suspected Islamist guerrillas, most recently in 2011 in Marrakesh, but militant groups have so far failed to gain any foothold in the kingdom.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi,; Editing by Mark Heinrich)