"These soldiers helped smugglers introduce contraband goods in exchange for sums of money, without ever checking the nature of these... smuggled products, that were often carried on camels' backs," the ministry said.
The arms were reportedly supposed to be used by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The soldiers were serving in Amghala, where last week security forces dismantled a 27-member terrorist cell and uncovered three weapons caches.
According to the ministry, the cell's Moroccan ringleader aimed to set up an al-Qaeda base in Morocco and send recruits to AQIM training camps in Algeria and Mali. Members of the terrorist group were reportedly planning attacks on security services and bank robberies to fund their activities.
The minister also commented that Morocco is increasing its vigilance in the fight against terrorism and the security services are on a constant lookout to ensure that planned manoeuvres by terrorists with links to AQIM come to nothing.
An arsenal that included
- 33 Kalashnikovs,
- two rocket-propelled grenades (RPG),
- a mortar and 1998 Kalashnikov ammunition was shown to journalists at the press meeting.
With the announcement of the break-up of the Amghala cell, observers stressed that Moroccan security services need to monitor the porosity of the borders.
"What is new is the smuggling of weapons. But I do not think that these soldiers, as the minister has pointed out, were quite aware of the content of the cargo. They thought these were goods which did not represent any danger for the security of the country," the expert said.
For his part, political analyst Mohamed Darif thinks the involvement of soldiers in facilitating the smugglers' activities is nothing new. Morocco has previously arrested security officers caught up in cases of smuggling and drugs trafficking, particularly in the north of the country.
According to security analyst Mohamed Benhemmou, the information provided by the interior ministry confirms the link between AQIM and transnational crime cells.
"Al-Qaeda uses the full logistical capabilities of organised crime. We must also resist any tendency to discount criminal activities because, when faced with terrorism, we must stamp out transnational organised crime. We find ourselves in a situation where there is intense co-operation between terrorism and smuggling of all kinds, even though the objectives are not the same. Al-Qaeda has ideological and political intentions, while the smuggling networks have economic and financial objectives," he said.
The news stirred mixed reactions among ordinary citizens, with some expressing concern over the terrorist threat and others showing scepticism about the information coming from the state.
"The number of cells which have been broken up proves that Morocco is being targeted. Up to now, the police have been able to thwart a number of terrorist threats. But trouble could come at any time, despite our vigilance, because terrorists are unpredictable," teacher Salah Eddine Machidi told Magharebia.
"Sometimes there is doubt about the real involvement of people who are arrested over acts of terrorism. Our fear is that innocent people are being incriminated without any evidence," said Hassan Bouchama, adding that the government doesn't release enough information about the cells.
This content was commissioned for Magharebia.com.
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