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2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Morocco

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 August 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Terrorism - Morocco, 5 August 2010, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Morocco pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that emphasized vigilant security measures, including international cooperation and innovation in the area of counter-radicalization policies. Evidence gained from Moroccan authorities' disruption of certain groups, and the common characteristics of those groups, supported previous analysis that Morocco's threat of terrorist attack continued to stem largely from the existence of numerous small "grassroots" extremist cells. These groups, sometimes referred to collectively as adherents of Moroccan Salafia Jihadia ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size (less than 50 individuals each), and tactically limited. Their international connections were also limited. The Government of Morocco's counterterrorism efforts have effectively reduced the threat, but the existence of these groups points to the need for continued vigilance.

Although AQIM has been unable to mount a successful terrorist attack in Morocco to date, Moroccan authorities remained concerned about the inspiration and knowledge transfer that AQIM may have provided to Moroccan extremists. AQIM repeatedly tried to incite Moroccans to commit violence against their government through internet propaganda. The Moroccan government remained concerned about numbers of veteran Moroccan jihadists returning from Iraq to conduct terrorist attacks at home. A further cause for concern is Moroccans who were radicalized during their stays in Western Europe, much like those who were involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

The Moroccan government pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that, building on popular rejection of terrorism, emphasized neutralizing existing terrorist cells through traditional intelligence work and preemptive security measures. Morocco aggressively targeted and dismantled terrorist cells within the Kingdom by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with regional and other international partners. These efforts resulted in the disruption of several terrorist groups:

  • In February, Moroccan police arrested Abdelkebir Barka at the Mohammed V International Airport upon his return from Syria. He was charged with forming a terrorist cell.

  • In May, the Moroccan police arrested eight alleged members of the terrorist group "Jamaat al Mouslimoun al Joudoud."

  • In June, Moroccan authorities arrested five members of a suspected terrorist cell operating in Morocco and Spain.

  • In late June, the security services arrested eight individuals on charges of forming a terrorist group, bringing charges that included drug trafficking and corruption. The leader of the group was Abou Yassine, a former Salafia Jihadia prisoner who had been sentenced previously to two years in jail for his involvement in the "Ansar al-Mahdi" terrorist group. The cell operated between Morocco and Spain, according to press reports.

  • In September, security services arrested 24 members of an alleged terrorist network linked to AQ that recruited volunteers for suicide bombings in Iraq, according to the Ministry of Interior. The Interior Ministry stated that the network had coordinated with terrorists in Sweden, Belgium, Iraq, and Syria and had also sought recruits to fight in Afghanistan and Somalia. Those arrested also intended to carry out terrorist acts in Morocco, according to the Ministry.

In addition to traditional security measures, Morocco's King Mohammed VI has promoted significant efforts to reduce extremism and dissuade individuals from becoming radicalized. Each Ramadan, for example, the King hosts a series of religious lectures, inviting Muslim speakers from around the world to promote moderate and peaceful religious viewpoints. In his Throne Day speech in July, the King highlighted the moderate and tolerant nature of the Sunni Malekite rite, which, he emphasized, forms an integral part of Moroccan identity. After the 2003 Casablanca bombings, Morocco increasingly focused on strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MOIA). Under the MOIA, the pioneering experiment, begun in 2007, of training and using women as spiritual guides continued. Morocco also formed a Council of Ulema for Europe to train and send Moroccan imams and women spiritual guides to counter extremist messages in Moroccan expatriate communities in Europe.

During the year, the Moroccan Government continued to implement internal reforms aimed at ameliorating the socio-economic factors that terrorists exploit. The National Initiative for Human Development, launched by the King in 2005, is a US$1.2 billion program designed to generate employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with a special focus on rural areas.

The Government of Morocco made public commitments that the struggle against terrorism would not be used to deprive individuals of their rights and emphasized as part of its approach adherence to human rights standards and increased law enforcement transparency. The government generally accorded terrorist suspects and convicts their rights and due process of law, with more access for defense lawyers and more transparent court proceedings than in previous years. Moroccan laws were effective in leading to numerous convictions and the upholding of convictions of multiple terrorism-related cases:

  • In January, a Moroccan criminal court sentenced Abdelmajid Zerghout to five years in prison for forming a terrorist group. Zerghout had been an imam in Italy before he was extradited to Morocco for his alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks of May 16, 2003 in Casablanca.

  • In February, a Moroccan counterterrorism court condemned Saad al-Husseini, the key plotter of the Casablanca attacks, to 15 years in prison. His five accomplices received between three and eight years. Then, in June, a Moroccan increased the jail terms of al-Husseini and his accomplices, who were sentenced for "undermining the national security of the State" and forming a terrorist group, to 20 and 10 years, respectively.

  • In March, a Moroccan court condemned Hassan Haski to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the 2003 terrorist attack in Casablanca.

  • In July, Abdelkader Belliraj was condemned to life in prison for terrorist activities, premeditated murder, attempted murder, and possession of illegal arms and explosives and other charges. The other 34 members of his cell were sentenced to between one and 30 years in prison. According to the police, the network was preparing to carry out acts of violence in Morocco and abroad including assassinations of political figures and Moroccan Jews. Belliraj was appealing the court's decision at year's end.

  • In September, 38 people suspected of belonging to a network that recruited Moroccans to fight in Iraq and Algeria appeared before a counterterrorist court. Police said the suspects intended to join terrorist groups in desert camps run by AQIM before proceeding to Iraq.

As part of its comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, Morocco also addressed terrorist financing. Although Morocco is not a regional financial center, its financial sector is integrated into international markets. Money laundering is a concern due to the narcotics trade, vast informal sector, trafficking in persons, and large level of remittances from Moroccans living abroad. The extent of the money laundering problem in the country is unknown, but conditions exist for it to occur on a significant scale. In recent years, Morocco has taken a series of steps to address the problem, most notably with the enactment of a terrorist finance (CFT) law in May 2003; with a comprehensive anti-money laundering (AML) law in April 2007; and with the establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in April 2009. These actions have provided the legal basis for the monitoring, investigation, and prosecution of illegal financial activities. The new laws allow for the freezing of suspicious accounts and permit the prosecution of terrorist finance-related crimes. U.S. and EU programs are providing Moroccan police, customs, central bank, and government financial officials with training to recognize money laundering methods. The FIU and its member organizations met with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security in early October to discuss possible U.S. technical assistance to develop the AML/CFT regime. A formal request from the FIU and the Central Bank followed in November. Morocco had a relatively effective system through the newly established FIU for disseminating U.S. government and UN Security Council terrorist freeze lists to its financial sector and legal authorities. Morocco froze some terrorist-related accounts.

Another key to Morocco's counterterrorism efforts was its emphasis on international cooperation. Moroccan authorities continued to disrupt plots to attack Moroccan, U.S., and other Western-affiliated targets, and aggressively investigated numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups, often in collaboration with international partners. Morocco and the United States worked together extensively on counterterrorism efforts at the tactical level. In the past years, Morocco has accepted prisoners formerly detained at Guantanamo Bay and prosecuted them under Moroccan law. In May, a Moroccan criminal court reduced the sentence of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Benmoujane from 10 to two years.

Morocco also forged solid cooperative relationships with European and African partners by sharing information and conducting joint operations. Morocco is considered a Mediterranean Dialogue partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and also cooperated with regional partners on a bilateral basis. In March, Spanish police arrested a Moroccan on an international warrant issued by Morocco on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group that had planned attacks on official and tourist targets in Morocco. Morocco also worked closely with African partners such as Mauritania and Senegal. The government used army and Ministry of Interior paramilitary forces to secure its borders as best it could but faced resource constraints and both a lengthy border and lengthy coastline.

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