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Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 - Morocco

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 April 2014
Cite as United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 - Morocco, 30 April 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/536229d3b.html [accessed 29 July 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.

Overview: Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. In 2013, Morocco's counterterrorism efforts effectively mitigated the risk of attack, although the country continued to face threats, largely from numerous small, independent violent extremist cells. Those groups and individuals, referred to collectively as adherents of the so-called Salafiyya Jihadiyya ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size, and limited in both capabilities and international connections. Morocco and the United States continued robust counterterrorism collaboration, and both countries committed to deepening that relationship during the November visit by King Mohammed VI to Washington, DC.

During the year, authorities disrupted multiple groups with ties to international networks that included al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM continued its efforts to recruit Moroccans for combat in other countries, calling for attacks against the Moroccan monarchy and against French and U.S. interests in Morocco and the region. There were reports of Moroccans attempting to join AQIM and other violent extremists in Mali and Syria, and the government was concerned about the return of those individuals to Morocco. The government was also concerned about veteran Moroccan violent extremists returning from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya to conduct terrorist attacks at home, and about Moroccans radicalized during their stays in Western Europe.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The government views counterterrorism as a top policy priority. The country experienced suicide attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007 and in Marrakech in 2011. Additionally, Moroccan nationals were implicated in the 2004 attacks in Madrid. The government continued to enforce the 2003 counterterrorism law, which supplements the criminal code. That law defines terrorism broadly to include incitement to terrorism, but does not penalize participation in terrorist training, communication with a terrorist group, or intimidation of foreign governments and populations. The law also sets strict penalties for active participation in terrorism. The 2003 counterterrorism law and the criminal code were used in several convictions in terrorism-related cases. The government has publicly committed itself not to use the struggle against terrorism to deprive individuals of their rights. It has emphasized adherence to human rights standards and the increased transparency of law enforcement procedures as part of its approach.

Morocco aggressively targeted and effectively dismantled terrorist cells within the country by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with regional and international partners. The National Brigade of the Judiciary Police – the investigative arm of the General Direction of National Security (DGSN), the national police force – is the primary law enforcement entity responsible for counterterrorism efforts. It works closely with the internal security service, the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DGST). The DGSN is the body primarily responsible for border security, handling border inspections at established ports of entry such as the Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, where most border crossings occur. Law enforcement officials and private carriers work regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. Government authorities work directly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Regional Carrier Liaison Group to address watch-listed or mala fide travelers. Government airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents but lack biometric screening capabilities.

Morocco's counterterrorism efforts led to numerous disruptions of alleged terrorist cells and prosecutions of associated individuals, including the cases highlighted below:

  • In January, the Rabat Court of Appeals reviewed the case of 12 individuals convicted under the counterterrorism law of recruiting young men to fight abroad with AQIM. Those arrests reportedly resulted from the investigation of two individuals said to have been detained in facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to a Ministry of Interior (MOI) statement, the cell operated in Al Hoceima, Fnideq, Meknes, and Tangier and had recruited more than 40 Moroccans to fight in Syria.

  • In May, the DGST and BNPJ dismantled two cells in the suburbs of Nador. Investigations connected the cells with elements fighting in Mali, and to a network charged with recruiting and sending volunteers to fight in the Sahel region. According to an MOI statement, those arrested included former prisoners, held under the counterterrorism law, who had ties to international violent extremist circles.

  • In August, authorities dismantled an al-Qa'ida-linked cell active in the central cities of Fez, Meknes, Taounate, and Tiznit following investigations by the DGST. Four to seven suspects were arrested for having ties to AQIM leaders and intentions of plotting attacks against Morocco. According to the investigation, the suspects were commissioned to hire new recruits and to carry out targeted operations against foreign missions in Morocco, particularly against the AFRICAN LION joint military exercise and against French military flights that allegedly originated from Guelmim airport in support of the intervention in Mali. Press reported that the cell was composed of several teachers of Islamic studies and one student who had allegedly joined one of the Ansar al-Shari'a groups operating in Libya in 2012.

  • In August, the Salé Criminal Court of Appeals sentenced nine individuals belonging to Ansar al-Shari'a to one to six years in prison. According to an MOI statement, the group was planning attacks against strategic sites in several Moroccan cities. The group had been dismantled in November 2012 after an ongoing investigation.

  • In December, the Salé Criminal Court of Appeals sentenced 17 to 20 individuals to two to 20 years in prison for affiliation with the Moroccan Mujahedin movement, a terrorist cell with connections to the 2003 Casablanca bombers and AQIM, according to the MOI. The individuals were arrested in May 2012.

  • In December, authorities dismantled a terrorist cell allegedly operating in several cities. The largest group arrested included at least 13 people in the city of Sidi Slimane near Meknes. According to an MOI statement, the suspects had received training in weapons and explosives and were preparing to go to Syria to fight. According to press reports, several of the individuals arrested had links to the "Sham al-Islam" movement, a group of Moroccans fighting in Syria under Moroccan ex-detainees at Guantanamo. Several of those individuals had allegedly returned from Syria through Turkey and were raising funds in preparation to return with new recruits.

Morocco, a long-standing and effective partner, continued to participate in the Department of State's Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program, which provided DGSN and the Royal Gendarmerie with training in cyber forensics, crime scene forensics, and executive leadership. Morocco also participated in Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and Department of Justice programs to improve technical investigative training for police and prosecutors.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Morocco is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its Financial Intelligence Unit is a member of the Egmont Group. In April, Parliament amended the penal code to criminalize money laundering and terrorist financing, bringing legislation in line with international standards. Those amendments fulfilled the last remaining requirements that the FATF had identified in a 2010 action plan. As a result, the FATF announced in October that Morocco was no longer subject to ongoing compliance monitoring, and in November, removed Morocco from its follow-up process. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Regional and International Cooperation: Morocco maintained cooperative relationships with European and African partners by sharing information, conducting joint operations, and participating in military, security, and civilian capacity-building events. Morocco is a founding member of the GCTF. In April, it hosted the UNODC/GCTF conference on regional cooperation in terrorist criminal matters. In September, it hosted the GCTF Criminal Justice Sector/Rule of Law Working Group meeting. Morocco also chairs the UNSC's Counter-Terrorism Committee and is a member of the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT).

Morocco is a Mediterranean Dialogue (5+5) partner of the EU's Barcelona Process and a Major Non-NATO Ally. Morocco participates in multilateral peacekeeping operations in Africa as well as in training exercises such as maritime-focused PHOENIX EXPRESS, the FLINTLOCK regional security cooperation exercise, and special operations exercises. It is also host to the annual AFRICAN LION exercise. These engagements, coupled with Morocco's initiative to modernize its force through Foreign Military Sales, have enhanced border security and improved capabilities to counter illicit traffic and terrorism. Morocco also participates in the 5+5 Defense Initiative, which brings together five European and five North African countries to address security issues in the Western Mediterranean. During the year, Morocco was active in the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to address the conflict in northern Mali. In November, it hosted the second regional ministerial conference on border security, which brought together 17 countries to improve border security in the Sahel; however, cooperation among countries in the region remains inconsistent. Specifically, while Morocco and Algeria participate in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) and the GCTF, the level of bilateral CT cooperation did not improve. Algeria and Morocco's political disagreement over the status of the Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2013. Finally, Morocco, a long-standing and effective partner in counterterrorism, seeks to play a more prominent role in the training of its neighbors in North and West Africa, an effort which the State Department seeks to support in the coming years.

Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: Morocco has a three-pillar strategy for countering violent extremism (CVE). First, the government takes a law and order approach to CVE, working closely with the United States and other international and regional partners to strengthen its security and counterterrorism capabilities. Second, Morocco has accelerated its rollout of education and employment initiatives for youth and expanded the legal rights and political empowerment of women. Finally, to counter what the government perceives as the dangerous importation of violent Islamist extremist ideologies, it has developed a national strategy to confirm and further institutionalize Morocco's widespread adherence to the Maliki school of Sunni Islam.

The Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) funds a program to improve the overall management of Morocco's corrections system to stanch potential radicalism and the recruitment of prisoners to terrorist ideology.

Every year during the month of Ramadan, the King hosts a series of religious lectures, inviting Muslim speakers from around the world to promote peaceful interpretations of Islam. In the past decade, and particularly since the Casablanca and Madrid terrorist bombings, Morocco has focused on countering youth radicalization, upgrading places of worship, promoting the teaching of moderate Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). The MEIA has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco's nearly 50,000 imams in the Maliki school of Sunni Islam. To counter the radicalization of Moroccans living abroad, the Moroccan Council of Ulema for Europe and the Minister Delegate for Moroccans Living Abroad also undertook similar programs to promote religious moderation among Moroccan expatriate communities in Europe. In September, Morocco expanded its regional counter-radicalization efforts by agreeing to train 500 Malian imams.

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