MADRID: Spanish and Moroccan authorities arrested seven suspected members of an extremist cell allegedly recruiting members to fight in Syria and other hotspots, the two governments said Friday.
Spain's Interior Ministry said three were arrested in its North African coastal enclave of Melilla and another in the southern resort city of Malaga. It said one of those arrested had spent time with al-Qaida linked groups.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry said police arrested three others in the town of Laroui, not far from Melilla. The ministry said the leader of the cell was a Spaniard arrested in Spain who had previously lived in Laroui.
The leader had ties with a cell recruiting fighters for al-Qaida's North African branch fighting in northern Mali that was broken up in November 2012, and he also sent fighters to Libya and Syria and raised funds for extremist groups, the Moroccan statement added.
Moroccan authorities regularly report disrupting militant recruitment cells, including one on March 6.
Spanish police arrested eight suspected jihadist militants last year in Spain's other North African enclave, Ceuta.
While Morocco has largely been spared the al-Qaida-linked terrorist attacks found elsewhere in North Africa and the Sahara, there are fears that fighters returning from Syria could carry out attacks.
The Justice Ministry estimates that hundreds of Moroccans have gone to fight in Syria, including former detainees from the U.S.-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An organization tracking the imprisonment of Islamists in Morocco said in the past year 70 Moroccans have been arrested under the anti-terror law after returning from Syria.