Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - Morocco
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism|
|Publication Date||30 April 2009|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2008 - Morocco, 30 April 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49fac6a327.html [accessed 14 March 2014]|
Morocco pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that emphasized vigilant security measures, including international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. Characteristics of groups disrupted by Moroccan authorities supported previous analysis that Morocco's threat of terrorist attack continued to stem from the existence of numerous small "grassroots" extremist groups. These groups, sometimes referred to collectively as adherents to Moroccan Salafia Jihadia ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size (less than 50 individuals each), and tactically limited. The existence of these relatively small groups pointed to the need for continued vigilance, but the Government of Morocco's counterterrorism efforts have done a good job of minimizing the threat.
There were reports of considerable numbers of Moroccans going to northern Mali and Algeria to receive training from AQIM elements with some returning to Morocco and others traveling to Iraq to conduct terrorist attacks. Although AQIM has been unable to support 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 website propaganda. The government remained concerned about numbers of veteran Moroccan jihadists returning from Iraq to propagate and conduct terrorist attacks at home. While overall numbers of Moroccans fighting in Iraq were difficult to confirm, some press reporting put the number at several hundred. A further cause of concern is Moroccans who were radicalized during their stays in Western Europe, such as those connected with the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
The Moroccan government pursued a comprehensive counterterrorism approach that, building on popular rejection of terrorism, emphasizes neutralizing existing terrorist cells through traditional law enforcement and preemptive security measures, and prevented terrorist recruitment through comprehensive counter-radicalization policies. Morocco aggressively targeted and dismantled terrorist cells within the Kingdom by leveraging policing techniques, coordinating and focusing the security services, and expanding and bolstering regional partnerships. These efforts resulted in the neutralization of numerous Salafi Jihadi-inspired terrorist groups, the most prominent were:
In addition to traditional security measures, Morocco's King Mohammed VI has promoted significant efforts to reduce extremism and dissuade individuals from becoming radicalized. Ordinary citizens providing tips to Moroccan security authorities have been instrumental in detecting many terrorist groups in Morocco, according to Interior Ministry sources.
After the 2003 Casablanca bombings, Morocco steadily increased attention to and focused on upgrading places of worship, modernization of the teaching of Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs. In September 2008, Sheikh Mohamed Ben Abderrahman Al Maghraoui issued a highly inflammatory fatwa (a religious opinion on Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar) that asserted the validity of marriage of girls, as young as nine years old. Moroccan authorities responded aggressively by discrediting the radical Sheikh and closing down approximately 60 Koranic schools under his supervision, and initiating an official inquiry into his competence. In addition, the public prosecutor's office initiated a criminal case against him for encouraging pedophilia. The Council of Ulamas, Morocco's highest religious body, was charged by the King, who is its leader, to "combat the hoaxes peddled by proponents of extremism," and to ensure the safeguarding of Morocco's tolerant Sunni Islam identity.
After this event and in a speech to the Higher Council of Ulamas in late September, the King announced his "proximity strategy," calling for the rehabilitation of 3,180 mosques, the training of 33,000 imams, and increasing the number of regional Ulama councils from 30 to 70 across Morocco, to help propagate a culture of religious tolerance and confront extremism. The pioneering experiment, begun in 2007, of training and using women as spiritual guides continued.
The Government of Morocco, and frequently the King himself, regularly and strongly condemned terrorist acts, wherever they occurred. The King has been particularly outspoken in the wake of attacks in neighboring Algeria, in expressions of sympathy for and solidarity with foreign governments and the victims.
The perceived injustice faced by the Palestinian people was cited by Moroccan officials as the single greatest radicalizing element among Moroccan extremists. Although the Moroccan Parliament remained in need of strengthening and reform, it nonetheless provided a forum for airing moderate Islamist-inspired views in a political setting, offering a counter-example to extremist rhetoric.
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 $1.2 billion program designed to generate employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with a special focus on rural areas.
In 2008, Morocco implemented elements of a comprehensive anti-money laundering bill passed in May 2007 that provided the legal basis for the monitoring, investigation, and prosecution of illegal financial activities. The new laws allow for the freezing of suspicious accounts, permit the prosecution of terrorist finance related crimes, and call for the establishment of a Financial Intelligence Unit. U.S. and EU programs are providing Moroccan police, customs, central bank, and government financial officials with training to recognize money laundering methodologies. Morocco has a relatively effective system for disseminating U.S. government and UN Security Council Resolution terrorist freeze lists to its financial sector and legal authorities. Morocco has frozen some terrorist-related accounts.
The Government of Morocco made firm public commitments that the struggle against terrorism would not be used to deprive individuals of their rights and emphasized adherence to human rights standards and increased law enforcement transparency as part of its approach. Non-governmental organizations were granted unprecedented access to prisons where individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes were held. Terrorist suspects and convicts were generally accorded rights and due process of law.
Moroccan laws were effective in leading to numerous convictions and the upholding of convictions of multiple terrorism-related cases:
- In February 2008, Moroccan authorities arrested a 36-person strong terrorist network in the cities of Nador, Rabat, Marakesh, and Casablanca. In addition to attack plotting against Moroccan and Western targets, group leader and de facto double-agent Moroccan-Belgium Abdelkader Belliraj, now in Moroccan custody, was suspected of participating in a bank robbery and half a dozen assassinations in Europe and smuggling arms into Morocco.
- In July, security services arrested, in various cities, 35 members of a terrorist network specializing in the recruitment of volunteers for Iraq.
- In August, another 15-person network calling itself Fath al-Andalus was reportedly disbanded in Laayoune, Western Sahara, and various cities in Morocco. The group was allegedly planning bombing attacks against UN peacekeeping forces in Western Sahara and tourists sites in Morocco.
- In December, authorities reportedly arrested five members of a terrorist cell in the northeastern Moroccan city of Berkane, along with nine other group members in other cities, who were allegedly preparing to rob banks in order to acquire arms for terrorist acts.
- In January, 50 defendants in the sensational 2007 Ansar al-Mehdi terrorist conspiracy trial were convicted and sentenced to prison. Alleged mastermind Hassan al-Khattab received a 25-year sentence. Forty-nine others, including four women and several members of the security forces, received sentences of two to 10 years.
- In November, the appeals court in Sale upheld the life sentence handed down last October of would-be suicide bomber Hicham Doukkali, who was wounded in August 2007 when his booby-trapped butane canister exploded in the central city of Meknes.
- In June, a court convicted 29 men belonging to a terrorist group known as the "Tetouan Cell," after its northern Moroccan town of origin, for plotting terrorist attacks.
- An appeals court also upheld the prison sentences, ranging from two to six years, of members of the terrorist group "Jamaat al Mouslimoun al Joudoud," who were arrested in 2005 on terrorism-related charges.
In April, following the mass escape in March of eight Salafist prisoners, and concerned the Moroccan prisons were serving as a place of radical fundamentalist networking and plotting, the government created a new ministerial-level Directorate General of Prison Affairs, separate from the Ministry of Justice. By the end of the year, all but one of the escapees had been recaptured. One was arrested in and returned from Algeria, according to the press.
In mid-November, the government announced the authorization of a $27.5 million emergency program, on top of an existing $81.5 million investment budget, designed to improve prison conditions and alleviate overcrowding. In addition to providing for the construction of six new penitentiaries, the program dedicated funds toward the government strategy of making new and existing penitentiaries spaces for reeducation and social reintegration into society. In November, Moroccan law enforcement entities initiated an unprecedented series of meetings with Salafist detainees with the goal of decreasing prison conflicts and violent recidivism, and improving prisoner treatment.
Another key to Morocco's counterterrorism efforts has been 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. The Government of Morocco accepted returnees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and prosecuted them under Moroccan law. In mid-November, for example, a Moroccan appeals court sentenced former Guantanamo detainee Said Boujaidia to 10 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, sabotage, financing, and participating in a criminal gang.
Morocco has also forged solid cooperative relationships with European and African partners by sharing information and conducting joint operations. Morocco is considered a Mediterranean Partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Morocco worked closely with African partners such as Mauritania and Senegal and is striving to improve its relationship with Algeria, a dynamic sometimes complicated by political differences. The government used army and Ministry of Interior paramilitary forces to secure its borders as best it could but faced resource constraints and a vast border area. The Moroccan government removed and prosecuted several corrupt border officers suspected this year of accepting bribes to allow AQIM members to infiltrate Morocco, according to reports.
In the wake of an AQIM attack that killed 12 Mauritanian soldiers in the region of Tourine in mid-September, the Government of Morocco sent military advisors to Mauritania to provide the government with training and advice on the protection of military bases and patrolling techniques.