Morocco arrests seven suspected militants and seizes weapons

RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities said on Friday they had arrested seven suspected militants linked to Islamic State and seized weapons and explosive belts.

A statement from the interior ministry said the group had ties with commanders of the Sunni Islamist group in Syria, Iraq and Libya and had set up a hideout in the coastal town of El-Jadida.

It said the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation seized an assault rifle, seven pistols, ammunition and bomb-making material. Authorities said they also found two explosive belts in the raids in El-Jadida, Sale and other towns.

Morocco, a Western ally against Islamist militancy, says that since 2002 it has dismantled more than 150 militant cells linked to groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Hundreds of fighters from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have joined militant groups in the Middle East and Libya. Security experts say some try to return and create new jihadi groups in their home countries.

Authorities blamed Islamists for a bomb which killed 17 people at a tourist cafe in the city of Marrakesh in 2011.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche)