SALE, Morocco (AP) — Morocco's anti-terrorist investigative unit announced Monday the dismantling of a militant cell that was in contact with the Islamic State group and awaiting an expert to come train it to manufacture explosives.
Morocco has been spared the militant attacks that have struck the rest of North Africa, but its security services frequently dismantle cells that are either sending recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq or planning attacks locally.
"We had intelligence on the group so we reacted, it's part of the Moroccan strategy of preemptive operations — we reacted in time," said Abdelhak Khiyam, the head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation — dubbed Morocco's FBI.
Three of the members of the cell were arrested on Saturday in a safe house in the resort town of Essaouira, popular with surfers. Journalists were shown four pistols, a submachine gun, samurai swords and pepper spray confiscated from the men.
There were also quantities of ammonium nitrate and sulfur which authorities said was to be used to make bombs.
The group had named itself Jund Khilafa or Soldiers of the Caliphate in Morocco, echoing similar named groups in Algeria and Tunisia, but Khiyam said their only links appeared to be with Islamic State leaders in Syria and Iraq.
Their weapons had been smuggled in from Algeria.
Since the unit was formed in March, it has announced the dismantling of 15 terror cells.
Mohammed Nifaoui, a member of the counter-terrorism group, said the cell represents a departure from previous groups that sought to first travel to Syria and Iraq to train. In this case, they were going to carry out attacks in the country after being trained locally.
"Normally terrorists go to Syria to train and then come back here, now there are experts from the Islamic State who come," he told The Associated Press. "It's a kind of decentralization of jihad, like a franchising.