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Friday, January 7, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Morocco dismantles Al Qaida cell in W. Sahara

CAIRO — Morocco said it dismantled an Al Qaida cell that operated in the disputed region of Western Sahara.


Officials said this marked the first time that an Al Qaida cell was captured in Western Sahara. For the last year, Morocco warned that Al Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb was expanding its presence in Western Sahara in cooperation with the Algerian-backed Polisario movement.

"They sought to establish a rear base in Morocco to conduct terror attacks," Moroccan Interior Minister Tayeb Cherkaoui said. "Four cell members were captured while they tried to infiltrate Algeria."

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At a briefing on Jan. 5, the minister said the AQIM cell was comprised of 27 members, all of them arrested. He said the cell, linked to Islamic networks in Europe, was directed by AQIM to conduct attacks throughout Morocco.

Officials said security forces found three weapons caches that belonged to the cell near Amghala in Western Sahara. They said the weapons included 30 AK-47 assault rifles, three submachine guns, two RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers as well as munitions.

The interior minister said the cell was directed by an unnamed Moroccan based in AQIM camps in Mali. Cherkaoui said the cell planned to conduct suicide attacks, including car bombings.

Financing for the AQIM-led cell was said to have been conducted through money-laundering and bank robberies. Officials said several attempts to rob banks and money changers took place in Casablanca and Rabat.

"The leaders of AQIM entrusted one of its members residing in northern Mali with this mission," Cherkaoui said.

The Al Qaida network was also said to have sent members to AQIM training camps in Algeria and Mali. Officials said the recruits were meant to spend several months learning bomb assembly, combat skills and intelligence work before returning to Morocco for operations.

Over the last year, Algeria has acknowledged increasing cooperation between AQIM and Polisario. Algerian officials said the cooperation was mostly in the area of drug and weapons smuggling.

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