In a statement released on Nov. 5, Morocco’s Interior Ministry claimed to have “dismantled a terrorist cell calling itself Ansar al Sharia in the Islamic Maghreb that was planning to carry out destructive operations against vital targets and locations in a number of Moroccan cities.”
The Interior Ministry said that the cell consisted of eight members, one of whom had previously been convicted on terrorism-related charges. The cell is allegedly “led by” an online ideologue associated with al Qaeda websites “who has managed to acquire great expertise in manufacturing explosives.”
The cell’s members adopted al Qaeda’s ideology, according to the Interior Ministry, and planned to attack government facilities “as well as tourist resorts in a number of Moroccan cities.”
“They established lines of communication with terrorist groups supporting al Qaeda that are active in the Sahel region in northern Mali, in order to acquire the financial and military support required to carry out their terrorist plans,” the statement continued.
A Moroccan security official interviewed by Agence France Presse explained that one of the cell’s members “was preparing a trip to the Sahel to get financial support from Islamist groups in that region.”
Akhbar al-Youm al-Maghrebiya, a daily publication in Casablanca, reported that the cell had partnered with “an extremist Egyptian national from the Sinai region who had been to Chechnya where he carried out operations.”
In late October, Moroccan authorities arrested another Ansar al Sharia figure named Hassan Younsi, although it is not clear if he was part of the recently disrupted cell. According to Magharebia.com, Younsi began marketing his group, named “Co-ordination of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco,” online on Sept. 17.
Al Qaeda-linked groups calling themselves Ansar al Sharia have popped up in several countries. In Yemen, for instance, Ansar al Sharia is simply an alias for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Currently, there are few reported details on Ansar al Sharia in the Islamic Maghreb, its leadership, or its operations.