Moroccan authorities say they have dismantled a militant cell, linked to Islamic State, that was planning to murder public figures and security personnel. During raids in several Moroccan cities on Sunday, security forces captured 13 men and confiscated weapons, computers and other material from their hideouts. The news comes just days after Islamic State claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in neighboring Tunisia.
Officials in the Moroccan city of Salé showed reporters pistols, plastic handcuffs, computers and other items collected during raids in Marrakesh, Agadir and other places throughout the country.
"This terrorist cell was dismantled by the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation, which is a new judicial part of the Moroccan domestic intelligence service. The cell was active in several cities. It was preparing a terrorist plan to undermine the safety and security of the country," said Abdelhaq Khyam of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation.
Security forces detained 13 suspects aged 19 to 37 who they say were planning to create an Islamic State affiliate in the North African kingdom.
"This terrorist network had targeted public figures, as well as political and military figures. After following members, we learned that they had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State and to its leader, Baghdadi. They called their cell "Islamic State in the Extreme Maghreb, grandsons of Youssef Bin Tachafin," continued Khyam. Tachafin is the co-founder of Marrakesh.
Last week, gunmen attacked a popular museum in neighboring Tunisia, killing 23 people, mostly foreign tourists. The Bardo national museum in the capital, Tunis, reopened for officials only on Tuesday. It will reopen to the public on Sunday.
Many foreign visitors continue to come, despite last week's violence.
"We decided not to cancel our trip and today. We have even decided to deviate from our itinerary to come to the museum just to take a picture and express our solidarity with Tunisians. Just a few weeks ago we had similar attempts by terrorists in Canada. This mustn't stop us," said Rose Marie, a Canadian tourist.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday that his government will expand its military mission against Islamic State. It will be the second NATO member, along with the United States, to conduct air strikes against militant positions in Syria. They also have been hit by jet attacks from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
"The government recognizes that ISIL's power base, indeed the so-called ‘Caliphate's Capital,’ is in Syria. ISIL fighters and much of its heavier equipment are moving freely across the Iraqi border into Syria for better protection, in part, against our airstrikes. In our view, ISIL must cease to have any safe haven in Syria," said Harper.
Tunisia and Morocco are popular tourist destinations on the North African Mediterranean coast. Hundreds of people from these countries are known to have gone to fight for Islamic State in Syria. Some of them are now returning home, bringing with them their jihadist agenda.