Hundreds of fighters from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have joined Islamist militant forces in Syria, with some threatening to return and create new jihadist wings in their home countries.
Morocco said on Thursday that it had dismantled a suspected militant cell inspired by the radical group Islamic State, and that it had arrested 10 men who were planning attacks in the North African kingdom.
The interior ministry said in a statement that the cell was operating in the eastern city of Oujda, and the town of Tendrara in the same region bordering Algeria. This was the latest in a series of radical Islamist groups that Morocco has said it has broken up.
It said 10 members of the group were meeting in a safe house and planning to rob a mall in the city of Oujda to fund their attacks across the kingdom.
The group includes an Algerian national living in Morocco illegally, according to the statement carried by state news agency MAP said.
Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), the judicial part of the Moroccan domestic intelligence service, has actively tracked suspected militants since Islamic State seized large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014-15.
Hundreds of fighters from Morocco and other Maghreb states like Tunisia and Algeria have joined Islamist militant forces in Syria. Some are threatening to return and create new jihadist wings in their home countries, security experts have said.
Nearby Libya has become a major draw for jihadists from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa as Islamic State has taken advantage of the security chaos there to build a base, operate training camps and take over the city of Sirte.
The Moroccan government has said it believes that 1,500 Moroccan nationals are fighting with militant factions in Syria and Iraq. About 220 have returned home and been jailed, and 286 have been killed in battle.
Morocco, an ally of the West against Islamist militancy, has been the target of militant attacks, most recently in 2011 in Marrakesh when an explosion tore through a cafe and killed 15 people, mostly foreigners.