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Islamic State Threat Rising in Morocco, Analysts Say


FILE - A Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation official gestures toward confiscated weapons with a commando in the background in Sale, Morocco, Sept. 14, 2015. Moroccan officials announced the dismantling of a cell in Essaouira that was in touch with Islamic State.

FILE - A Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation official gestures toward confiscated weapons with a commando in the background in Sale, Morocco, Sept. 14, 2015. Moroccan officials announced the dismantling of a cell in Essaouira that was in touch with Islamic State.

As Islamic State militants gain territory in Libya, Morocco is facing a growing threat from IS, government intelligence reports and analysts say.

Moroccan authorities said Monday that an IS cell was broken up as it planned to unleash explosives in public places. The news followed the arrest in February of suspected IS militants who were allegedly plotting biological attacks.

According to recent reports, jihadist Moroccans are joining IS in Libya and are increasing communication and coordination with sympathizers back home.

"In 2015, reports indicated that up to 300 Moroccans were training in Libya. So it stands to reason that these militants will one day seek to return home and plan attacks when they do," said Sarah Feuer, a North Africa analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Moroccan authorities have uncovered a growing number of cells claiming ties with IS, she said.

Moroccan security forces recently arrested a group of militants who allegedly were trying to carry out attacks against government institutions and military leaders. The group of 10 men had pledged allegiance to IS leadership in Iraq and Syria and had received weapons from IS in Libya, Moroccan officials said.

"This group was operating based on Daesh [IS] strategies," Abelhak Khayyam, the chief of Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation, told reporters. He said they were recruiting children, including a 16-year-old French citizen, for a planned suicide attack.

FILE - A unidentified Moroccan leaves a tea shop detained by the Spanish Civil Guard in Pamplona, northern Spain, Dec.1, 2015. Spanish authorities alleged the man was a member of a cell that recruited fighters for the Islamic State group in Syria.

FILE - A unidentified Moroccan leaves a tea shop detained by the Spanish Civil Guard in Pamplona, northern Spain, Dec.1, 2015. Spanish authorities alleged the man was a member of a cell that recruited fighters for the Islamic State group in Syria.

Violence target

Amid the turbulent security situation in many parts of North Africa, Morocco is a candidate for violence, analysts said.

"Terrorists are constantly on the move," said Said Nachid, a terrorism expert based in Rabat, Morocco's capital. "They look for new areas in volatile regions to control. And if there's not volatility, they would create it themselves. Morocco could be a target of theirs."

Analysts said that despite strict government censorship, local mosques have mobilized young people and are exploiting their socioeconomic grievances.

"These [Moroccan jihadists] are mostly disenfranchised young people who were easily deluded by extremist rhetoric in mosques," said Nachid, who wrote a book about trends of global terrorism.

Morocco, a majority Muslim nation, has often been targeted by terrorist attacks. The last one was in 2011 in Marrakesh, in which at least 15 people were killed.

The Moroccan government has increased its security collaboration and intelligence sharing with Western governments since last year's terrorist attacks in France. A number of men of Moroccan background were involved in the violence, police reported.

The growing relationship with the West, however, could be a disadvantage for the Moroccan government because it could agitate anti-Western jihadist groups, analysts said.

"The rise of sleeper cells is a direct threat to the government," Nadia Afettat, a Spain-based Moroccan affairs analyst, told VOA. "One goal of terror networks in Morocco is to pressure the government to retreat from intelligence cooperation on terrorism with other Western nations."

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