An al-Qaida-linked militant cell planning attacks inside Morocco has been dismantled, the country announced Friday.
Morocco has been largely spared attacks by the active North African branch of the terror network, but the latest arrests suggest the group is trying to expand into this kingdom of 32 million.
A statement from the Interior Ministry said the three-man group was in close contact with the branch, known as Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
"The members of this terrorist cell planned to join the camps of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb outside of Morocco to receive military training before returning to the kingdom to commit criminal acts against the security services and Western interests," the statement said.
The group also was in contact with AQIM to obtain arms and planned to ambush security services to use their weapons in attacks, the Interior Ministry added. The group was known as the Al-Battar Brigade, a possible reference to one of the swords carried by the Prophet Muhammad, meaning very sharp.
The cell was led by an individual who was very active in the online jihadist community and was in touch with militant organizations in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Iraq, according to the statement. Another member of the group had previously been detained under the anti-terrorism law.
Thousands of suspects were detained by authorities after al-Qaida linked attacks in Casablanca in 2003 killed 33 people.
AQIM, however, has rarely carried out attacks in Morocco and is mainly active in Algeria and deep in the Sahara Desert in Niger and Mali, where it has kidnapped numerous foreigners.
In an August video message posted on online jihadi forums, however, the organization promised renewed attacks all over Africa in retaliation for the May killing of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces.
Experts say there has been an uptick over the summer in attacks attributed to the organization.
On April 28, a bomb went off in a cafe popular with tourists in Marrakech killing 17 people, but suspects were believed only to be inspired by AQIM.
On Thursday, the Tunisian military said it fought a pitched battle with armed militants that had crossed its desert border with Algeria in nine four-wheel-drive vehicles.