Spanish and Moroccan security officials have arrested seven Islamist fundamentalists who were allegedly in charge of recruiting volunteers to fight in the conflicts in Syria, Mali and Libya, law enforcement authorities said Friday.
At least four people have been arrested in Spain; two in Melilla and one in Málaga. In Morocco, security forces detained three people near the city of Nador.
Authorities said that all the suspects are Moroccan nationals. Some of the youths had returned to Morocco after fighting in Syria, and were considered very dangerous.
According to law enforcement sources, this is the first joint operation between Spanish and Moroccan authorities aimed at cracking down on Islamist terrorists. These sources said the sting proves the “excellent” level of cooperation between both countries in the fight against Al Qaeda. The members of the Melilla cell had been under surveillance for months.
Last summer, Spanish police and the Civil Guard broke up a similar radical group in Ceuta, with at least 60 people linked to Al Qaeda in Syria, who were fighting to topple Syrian President Bachar Al Assad.
Law enforcement authorities said that at least a dozen young people from Ceuta have been sent to Syria to fight in the civil war.
Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz was expected to give a news conference later Friday to give details of the police operation.
The driving force behind this network is Mustafa Maya Amaya, a resident of Melilla, who used the internet to personally select the volunteers no matter what their country of origin. Once the selection process was over, he got in direct touch with the successful candidates and gave them the necessary resources to reach the terrorist organization they were being sent to. The main ones were the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Jabhat Al Nusra (JN) and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), all of which are in the Al Qaeda orbit.
The network had branches in Morocco, Belgium, France, Tunisia, Turkey, Libya, Mali, Indonesia and Syria.
The recruits were either incorporated as leaders and perpetrators of attacks and public executions, or sent to die in terrorist strikes in the conflict zones.
The operation got underway in 2010 under the supervision of High Court Judge Ismael Moreno, and reached a turning point when investigators detected several Jihadists from France at Maya Amaya’s home.