ISIS cell planned biological attack in Morocco
Casablanca - Islamic State (ISIS) militants were considering using biological weapons in an attack on Morocco, authorities in Rabat said.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry disclosed that security services dismantled a terrorist cell suspected of having links with the ISIS and was preparing “terrorist attacks on a large scale” in several Moroccan cities.
“Some of the seized substances are classified by international organisations that specialise in health issues as falling within the category of biological weapons, dangerous for their capacity to paralyse and destroy the nervous system and cause death,” the ministry said in a statement.
Security services, which have been hunting for jihadist groups, carried out searches in several locations in Morocco, investigations that led to the arrests of nine Moroccans and a French convert to Islam.
Moroccan investigators said they found weapons, including four guns and four pistols, containers of toxic and lethal biological substances and “suspicious” tissues in a house in the coastal city of El Jadida, 60km south of Casablanca, where the leader of the suspected cell was captured February 18th.
Authorities said members of the cell sought to carry out a series of “separate and concurrent” terrorist attacks on “sensitive targets”, including hotels and public institutions.
It would have been the first biological attack by a terrorist organisation in an Arab country, indicating that ISIS is changing tactics.
“Members of the terrorist cell have not been trained, as usual, in camps in Syria or Iraq. These people were trained on site in coordination with Daesh, which provided them with the necessary arms,” Abdelhak Khiame, director of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ), said. “Daesh” is an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
“It’s far from a terrorist cell, it is a real armed commando,” he added.
The investigation revealed that the suspected terrorists, who were active in El Jadida, Essaouira, Meknes and Sidi Kacem, planned to establish a training camp after the attack.
“They were intended to go to Sehb El Harcha, a mountainous area about 20km from Tan-Tan to establish their activity out of sight,” said Khiame.
The leader of the terrorist cell was said to be a 35-year-old from Laayoune. The French citizen has been living in Morocco for almost a year. A 16-year-old was supposed to carry out a suicide car bomb attack in El Jadida.
Khiame stressed that “Morocco remains a prime target for various armed groups settled in the area, due to the country’s openness and the increased number of ISIS fighters from the North African kingdom in Iraq and Syria”.
Moroccan secret services also arrested a former French soldier once he landed March 6th at Fez Airport after flying from Nantes. The 34- year-old alleged jihadist, who is supposedly an explosives expert, served in the French military but was dismissed after his radicalisation.
He was under house arrest after last November’s attacks in Paris and subsequently was banned from leaving French territory. His luggage was said to contain knives, military fatigues and a small gas cylinder. Searches by BCIJ agents at his home in Sefrou uncovered books on military and weapons training as well as religion, officials said.
Questions have been raised on how the suspect managed to fly from Nantes without being spotted by French security services.
BCIJ also dismantled on March 7th a five-member cell linked to ISIS in Smara, Belfaa and Aït Amira regions in the province of Chtouka Aït Baha. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry, cell members planned to join ISIS camps in Iraq and Syria but instead decided to join the jihadist organisation in Libya.
The investigation revealed that the cell intended to declare jihad in Morocco and one of its members was making a bomb using a pressure cooker.
Moroccan authorities have dismantled 153 terrorist cells, including 32 since the beginning of 2013, with close ties with jihadist groups operating in Iraq and Syria.
The kingdom has witnessed no extremist attack since the 2011 terrorist attack on Argana Cafe in the main square of Jamaa El Fna in Marrakech, which killed 17 people and injured 25 others.