RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities have arrested a suspected militant accused of acting as an intermediary between Islamic State commanders and a cell dismantled by French authorities last month, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.
France said late last month it had foiled a possible attack after detaining seven people, including some who had been in the ranks of Islamic State in Syria.
“For his mission (the suspect) met Islamic State messengers on the Turkish-Syrian border and he received instructions ... to pass on to the group that has been arrested on French soil,” the Moroccan ministry said in a statement.
The suspect was supposed to travel to France via Germany using a forged passport, the ministry added.
It gave no details about the suspect but a security source told Reuters he was a Moroccan national who lived in Spain.
“When he saw that the group was arrested in France he came to Morocco from Turkey and was arrested at the airport when his plane landed,” said the security source, who declined to be named.
France said the seven people, who are of French, Moroccan and Afghan origin and are aged 29 to 37, were taken into custody after an eight-month operation that ended with the DGSI internal intelligence agency laying a trap.
The arrests in France came a year after a state of emergency was imposed to counter a wave of Islamist attacks and at a politically sensitive time ahead of next spring’s presidential election in which security will be a major theme.
Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), the judicial part of the Moroccan domestic intelligence service, often announces it has broken up militant cells accused of plotting inside and outside the kingdom.
Hundreds of fighters from Europe and Maghreb states such as 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 say.
The Moroccan government has said it believes around 1,500 Moroccan nationals are fighting with militant factions in Syria and Iraq. About 200 have been jailed after returning home and some 500 have been killed in battle.
Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Gareth Jones