November 16, 2015 / 11:19 AM / 2 years ago

Morocco arrests four militants with suspected Islamic State ties

RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan police have arrested four people suspected of belonging to a militant cell linked to the Islamic State group, the interior ministry said on Monday.

The cell, the latest of a series of Islamist militant groups the authorities say they have uncovered, had been active in the central city of Beni Mellal, the ministry said in a statement.

The cell was planning to carry out attacks using explosives, while its leader had close ties to Moroccans fighting with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in order to win logistical support, the ministry said. It did not give details of those contacts.

Hundreds of fighters from Morocco and other Maghreb nations, such as Tunisia, have joined Islamist militant forces in the conflict in Iraq and Syria, and also in Libya. Some are threatening to return to carry out attacks and recruit more jihadis in their home countries, security experts say.

Last week, authorities said it had arrested another man in the northern city of Nador who was planning attacks in Morocco and against a church in Europe. It was unclear which European country was to be targeted.

Around 1,500 Moroccan nationals are fighting with armed groups in Syria and Iraq, 220 have returned home and been jailed and 286 have been killed, authorities said earlier this year.

Morocco, a Western ally against Islamist militancy, often announces it has broken up militant cells accused of plotting inside and outside the kingdom. It has suffered bomb attacks by suspected Islamist fighters, most recently in 2011 in Marrakesh.

Reporting y Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Patrick Markey and Richard Balmforth

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