Rabat: Morocco's government said it
has broken up a cell linked to al Qaeda's North African branch
in the disputed Western Sahara, thwarting planned attacks on
police and uncovering caches of weapons.
Police dismantled a 27-member cell and discovered three
weapon caches containing 30 Kalashnikov automatic rifles and
two rocket-propelled grenade launchers in Western Sahara,
Interior Minister Taieb Cherqaoui told reporters Wednesday.
Cherqaoui said the cell was planning suicide bomb attacks
against police and bank robberies to finance its activities.
Morocco says Western Sahara is part of its kingdom but
has been locked for decades in a dispute with a local
independence movement called the Polisario Front, which also
lays claim to the territory.
Al Qaeda's North African branch operates throughout the
vast arid region, from Mauritania to Chad, but has not been
known to have a presence in Western Sahara.
The cell was led by a Moroccan citizen based in an
al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa camp in Mali, Cherqaoui said.
Members of the cell were to be sent for training in camps in
Mali and Algeria, according a government statement.
Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, known by the acronym
AQIM, is an Algeria-based group that joined Osama bin Laden's
terrorist network in 2006.
It operates mainly in Algeria, where it wages frequent
ambushes and bombings, but has crossed the porous desert
borders of the region to spread violence in the rest of
Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger have opened a joint
military headquarters in the region in an unusual, united
effort to combat terrorism and trafficking across borders.
AQIM claimed responsibility for kidnapping five French
hostages, as well as two people from Togo and Madagascar, last
September as they slept in the Niger uranium mining town of
Arlit. It is believed to have taken them to neighboring Mali.
First Published: Wednesday, January 05, 2011, 23:56