Spain and Morocco arrest 9 suspects in cross-border terror recruiting cell

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MADRID — A cross-border cell in the Spanish enclave of Melilla and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador to recruit jihadis to fight for the Islamic State group has been dismantled, the two countries claimed Friday.

Spain's Interior Ministry said the leader of the cell coordinated with his brother, an ex-Spanish soldier currently fighting with the Islamic Group. A specialist in arms and explosives, the former soldier had originally joined the al-Qaida splinter group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, in 2012, which was fighting in the African state of Mali.

The Moroccan statement added that the cell also had contacts with the other extremist organization fighting in Mali, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. It added that the cell's leader was suspected of involvement in the theft and trafficking of stolen cars to raise funds for the Islamic State group, which is in control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Morocco has been a major source of recruits for extremist groups, first those fighting in Mali and then later in Syria.

It is the second joint Spanish-Moroccan operation in a month. On Aug. 14, another recruiting network was broken up, this time around the other Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

Spain and Morocco have arrested dozens of suspected jihadist militants and recruiters in recent years, especially around the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.

Morocco's northern city of Fez has also been a center for recruitment networks, with another dismantled there on Sept. 12.

Morocco beefed up its anti-terror laws on Sept. 18 by adding new penalties of up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $58,000 for those seeking to join extremist groups.

On Thursday, a Moroccan court handed down sentences of three to five years to four men convicted of recruiting people for terror groups.

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