Rabat — Morocco's public prosecutor on Monday (December 30th) referred more than 45 alleged members of a terror recruitment cell to a Sale criminal court.
The suspects arrested December 26th in Sidi Slimane, Sale, Fnideq, Tetouan, Larache, Ouazzane, Fes, Khouribga, Nador, Zayo, al-Aaroui, Tangier, Mohammedia, Rabat, Marrakech, Tan Tan and Laâyoune are accused of being members of Sham al-Islam.
Long-time Moroccan jihadist Brahim Benchekroune and fellow former prisoner and compatriot Mohamed Mazouz launched the al-Qaeda inspired group in Syria.
Their stated goal: to "consolidate the doctrine of jihad and train a unique generation of jihadists".
Mazouz recently appeared in a video at a Syrian camp, while reading a statement calling for jihad and for providing financial support and weapons to mujahideen in Syria against Bashar al-Assad's regime.
According to the interior ministry, the terrorists planned to commit attacks on the kingdom upon their return from Syria.
The ministry said a former terrorist prisoner was suspected of playing a pivotal role in efforts to raise money and recruit.
The arrests come as part of a sweep by Moroccan security agencies that netted scores of salafists, including those who had expressed support for the Sham al-Islam group.
"The Moroccan security agencies are cracking down on all extremist activities," Mohamed Agdid, a retired DGST officer, confirmed to Magharebia.
"Most of those who depart to fight in Syria don't have previous records, and they go to Syria via Turkey," he said.
Abdellah Rami, a Moroccan researcher specialising in Islamic groups, said, "The biggest centre that supports al-Qaeda's ideology is now based in Syria."
"The new group was created on the backdrop of differences between the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN)," he told Magharebia.
He added, "In spite of the name which refers to the Levant, most of the group founders are Moroccan. The group was founded under Moroccan leadership and Syrian trainers."
Rami added that other Moroccan salafists, including Abdellah Tabark, a former bodyguard of Bin Laden, and Anas Halaoui, co-ordinator of the National Committee for the Defence of Islamic prisoners, might have departed for Syria to join the group and fight against al-Assad's forces.
In the decade since the Casablanca suicide bomb attacks, Moroccan security forces have dismantled 114 terror cells and thwarted 266 terrorist plots, including plans to strike diplomatic missions, Jewish synagogues, Christian churches, and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).