Overview: Morocco's counterterrorism efforts were comprehensive in 2010. The Moroccan government emphasized vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. Indications from Moroccan authorities' disruption of certain groups, and the common characteristics of those groups, continued to support previous analysis that Morocco's threat of terrorist attack stemmed largely from the existence of numerous small "grassroots" extremist cells. These groups, referred to collectively as adherents of Moroccan Salafia Jihadia ideology, remained isolated from one another, small in size, 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 relatively small groups pointed to the need for continued vigilance.

Domestic Terrorism and Terrorist Incidents: Reports of Moroccans either preparing to go or going to terrorist fronts in Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan to receive training from al-Qa'ida (AQ) linked facilitators and/or to conduct attacks suggest Morocco remained a source for foreign fighter pipelines. With regard to al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The group remained unable to mount a successful terrorist attack in Morocco. Nonetheless, Moroccan authorities remained concerned about the ideological 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 violent extremists returning from Iraq to conduct terrorist attacks at home. A further cause of concern was Moroccans who were radicalized during their stays in Western Europe, such as those connected with the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

Legislation and Law Enforcement: At a tactical law enforcement level, the Moroccan Directorate General for National Security created a new police special weapons and tactics unit in cooperation with the French government. The new team is based at the Royal Police Academy in Kénitra, and, once operational, its primary responsibilities will be to dismantle terrorist cells and carry out other high-risk urban interventions. With regard to legislation, the Government of Morocco 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.

Morocco's counterterrorism efforts led to the following disruptions of alleged terrorist cells:

  • In April, the Moroccan security services arrested 38 members of an AQ-linked terrorist cell who reportedly were planning to send Moroccan volunteers to Somalia, Iraq, and the Sahel. Some cell members, according to the Ministry of Interior, were planning acts of sabotage within Morocco.

  • In June, Moroccan authorities arrested 11 members of a Palestinian-led cell that had planned to carry out attacks and assassinations of Moroccan public figures and Jewish people of Moroccan origin, in addition to attacks on tourism sites and police stations.

  • In August, Ministry of Interior officials arrested 18 individuals in the Tangier area who were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in several Moroccan cities, with a specific focus on Moroccan military bases and tourist sites that typically attract foreigners.

  • In October, Ministry of Interior officials dismantled an international network of cocaine traffickers that reportedly had links with AQIM. The arrests included 34 individuals, at least three of whom were foreigners. The head of the organization in Morocco was included in these arrests and was working closely with another man involved in the network in Mali.

Countering Terrorist Finance: Morocco has a relatively effective system through its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which became operational in late 2009, for disseminating U.S. government and UNSCR terrorist freeze lists to its financial sector and legal authorities. While Morocco is not a regional financial center, it is well integrated into the international financial system. Money laundering was a concern due to the illicit narcotics trade, vast informal sector, trafficking in persons, and large level of remittances from Moroccans living abroad.

The Government of Morocco estimated that Morocco's informal sector accounts for 15 percent of GDP. The predominant use of cash, informal value transfer systems, and remittances from abroad help fuel Morocco's informal sector. Morocco pursued aggressive anti-money laundering legislation and has taken steps to act against violators. Although the legislation targets previously unregulated cash transfers, the country's vast informal sector created conditions for this practice to continue. As of early December, the Moroccan Parliament was debating a new anti-money laundering law that is similar to U.S. anti-money laundering legislation. In addition, Morocco signed an arrangement with the U.S. Department of Treasury to receive technical assistance in the form of a FIU advisor.

Regional and International Cooperation: Moroccan-U.S. cooperation was particularly strong. 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 and made plans to begin joint counter-radicalization programs.

Morocco ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. Morocco has forged solid cooperative relationships with European and African partners by sharing information, conducting joint operations, and participating in training maneuvers. Morocco participates in multilateral peacekeeping operations on the continent and in training exercises. These were important steps, yet the lack of consistent cooperation among countries in the region remained a potential weakness for terrorist groups such as AQIM to exploit. Specifically, while Morocco and Algeria are members of the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, the level of bilateral cooperation on counterterrorism between the two countries did not improve. Morocco was specifically excluded from the Algerian-led Combined Operational Committee (CEMOC), formed at Tamanrasset, Algeria. Algeria and Morocco's political disagreement over the Western Sahara territory remained an impediment to deeper counterterrorism cooperation.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: In addition to traditional security measures, Morocco's King Mohammed VI has promoted significant efforts to reduce extremism and dissuade individuals from becoming radicalized. At Ramadan, for example, the King hosted a series of religious lectures, inviting Muslim speakers from around the world to promote moderate and peaceful religious interpretations. In the past decade, and specifically following the Casablanca (2003) and Madrid (2004) terrorist bombings, Morocco has increasingly focused on countering youth radicalization, upgrading places of worship, modernizing the teaching of Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). Begun in 2007 under the MEIA, the pioneering experiment 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. In 2010, the MEIA turned its attention to the medium of television. On June 19, Morocco connected its 2,000 largest mosques to a new television network named "Assadisa," whose goal is to broadcast a tolerant version of Islam as part of the Ministry's drive to fight radicalism.

In 2010, 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.

With regard to Morocco's efforts to counter youth radicalization, Morocco has accelerated its rollout of education and employment options for youth, and expansion of legal rights and political empowerment for women. The United States worked closely with the Government of Morocco and key Moroccan civil society organizations to support this initiative through innovative assistance programs including a new USAID/INL program to work with youth in prison, recently released from prison, and marginalized youth at-risk of going to prison. The program also included a significant juvenile justice reform component.


This 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.