Overview: Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. The government has treated counterterrorism as a top policy priority since the country experienced suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca in 2003, and that focus has been reinforced by further attacks in 2007 and 2011. Additionally, Moroccan nationals were implicated in the 2004 attacks in Madrid. In 2014, Morocco's counterterrorism efforts effectively mitigated the risk of terrorism, 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 capabilities.
During the year, authorities reported the disruption of multiple groups with ties to international networks that included al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). AQIM and ISIL continued efforts to recruit Moroccans for combat in other countries, and there were reports of Moroccans attempting to join AQIM, ISIL, and other violent extremists in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 Moroccans were fighting in the Syrian conflict, making them one of the largest foreign contingents in the conflict. The government was increasingly concerned about the potential return of veteran Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters from those conflict zones to conduct possible terrorist attacks at home, and Moroccans resident abroad becoming radicalized during their stays in Western Europe. AQIM and ISIL continued to call for attacks against the Moroccan monarchy and prominent Moroccan institutions and individuals. In July, ISIL published a video online in which it promised to bring "jihad" to install the caliphate system in Morocco, and in October, the group published a video calling for attacks against U.S. persons and interests in Morocco and the region.
Morocco is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL and has made contributions and commitments to the effort. In addition, the government was increasingly proactive in 2014 to both stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and to counter ISIL propaganda. In July, the MOI claimed to have arrested over 120 foreign terrorist fighters who had returned from Syria since the start of the Syrian conflict. As of December, the parliament was reviewing draft amendments to the criminal procedural codes to comply with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2178. The amendments would criminalize support to terrorist groups, travel to fight or train in conflict areas, and recruitment of others for such acts, creating greater latitude for the government to prosecute Moroccans engaged in terrorist activity abroad. Finally, in December, Morocco co-chaired the inaugural plenary session of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The government continued to enforce the 2003 counterterrorism law, which supplements the criminal code. That law defines terrorism to include incitement to terrorism but does not penalize participation in terrorist training, communication with a terrorist group, or intimidation of foreign governments or populations. The law also sets strict penalties for active participation in terrorism. During the year, the 2003 counterterrorism law and the criminal code were used in several convictions in terrorism-related cases. Morocco has been working to improve its legal system through an ongoing comprehensive reform of the justice system; for example, in November, the parliament approved a law eliminating the use of military tribunals for civilian cases.
Moroccan law enforcement units 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 (BNPJ) – a specialized entity within the investigative arm of the national police force, the General Direction of National Security (DGSN) – is the primary law enforcement entity responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement. It works closely with and uses intelligence from the internal security service, the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DGST). In October, the MOI launched a security initiative to improve coordination among the Royal Armed Forces, the Royal Gendarmerie, and MOI auxiliary forces to better protect the public against terrorist threats in urban areas. 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. However, in August, the UN Human Rights Council working group on arbitrary detention released a report based on a review of cases from 2009 through 2013 that claimed they had found "a pattern of torture and ill-treatment by police officers" in national security and counterterrorism cases; separately, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez had reported in 2013 that while he found evidence of torture in Moroccan detention facilities, it was "not systematic."
The DGSN is the body primarily responsible for border security, handling border inspections at established ports of entry such as Casablanca's Mohammed V Airport, where most border crossings occur. Law enforcement officials and private carriers have worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. Government authorities worked directly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Regional Carrier Liaison Group and the DHS Homeland Security Investigations Attaché office at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca to address watchlisted or mala fide travelers. Government airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents but currently lack biometric screening capabilities.
Morocco's counterterrorism efforts led to numerous disruptions of alleged terrorist cells and prosecutions of associated individuals, including these cases:
In August, the MOI announced that a joint BNPJ-DGST operation had led to the arrest of nine individuals for recruiting volunteers for ISIL. The network was operating out of the northern cities of Fes, Fnideq, Tetouan, and Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, raising funds and exporting people to conflict zones. The arrests reportedly resulted from a joint Moroccan-Spanish investigation. According to the Moroccan MOI, some of the recruits were planning to return to Morocco to use their training to conduct attacks against senior civilian and military officials. Press reports indicated that by late August, the nine individuals had been charged in the Salé Court of Appeals with forming a criminal gang to prepare and carry out terrorist attacks within the framework of a collective plot to undermine public order by intimidation, violence, and terrorism; funding terrorism; and holding unauthorized public meetings.
In October, a joint BNPJ-DGST operation in Fes led to the arrest of two individuals – a French national and a Moroccan with French nationality – who were reportedly preparing to join ISIL in Syria. The two individuals had previously been in France supporting ISIL through the translation of propaganda and posting it online along with videos that included calls for expanding the caliphate to Morocco.
In December, the Salé Court of Appeals sentenced seven people to three years in prison, without remission, on terrorism charges based on testimonies during the preliminary investigation that these individuals had traveled to Syria to join terrorist organizations and receive military training.
Morocco 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. In August, Morocco and the United States signed an ATA agreement to partner in the development of CT capacity and cooperation in the Maghreb and Sahel regions. Morocco also continued to partner with the United States to improve the police criminal investigation process through the development and implementation of chain of custody and evidence management procedures; forensic evidence collection and analysis, including DNA; and mentoring and training. Morocco participated in Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and Department of Justice programs to improve technical investigative training for police and prosecutors. DGSN, Moroccan Customs, and the Royal Gendarmerie were active partners and participants in DHS-sponsored training events on border security, financial investigation, and counter-proliferation topics. Finally, government officials participated in several U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation-led courses to improve capacity in intelligence analysis, facial recognition, and leadership and management.
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 of Financial Intelligence Units. Morocco was removed from the FATF compliance monitoring follow-up process in 2013 and continued to make legal progress in the counterterrorist finance (CFT) domain in 2014. In July, the parliament's chamber of representatives (lower house) voted to adopt the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism, and the convention was under parliamentary review at year's end.
In March, a joint BNPJ-DGST operation arrested four individuals in the Fes region for terrorist financing and the recruitment of youth to travel to Syria to fight. According to the MOI, the group's leader, Ahmed Zahrouni Kouis, previously detained on terrorism charges, reportedly scammed banks and financial institutions into granting loans to front companies with forged documents.
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/2014/vol2/index.htm.
Regional and International Cooperation: Morocco is a founding member of the GCTF and a member of the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). In April, Morocco hosted the Fifth GCTF Coordinating Committee meeting. During the year, Morocco pledged contributions to the GCTF-inspired Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF) to address countering violent extremism goals and volunteered to serve as a pilot country. It also was a founding member of the Malta-based International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law launched in June. In December, it hosted and co-chaired the inaugural plenary session of the GCTF Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group.
Morocco is a major non-NATO Ally and a Mediterranean Dialogue (5+5) partner in the EU's Barcelona Process; within that process, Morocco 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. Morocco also participates in multilateral peacekeeping operations in Africa as well as in training exercises such as maritime-focused PHOENIX EXPRESS and the FLINTLOCK regional security operations exercise, and hosts the annual AFRICAN LION regional exercise. These engagements have enhanced border security and improved capabilities to counter illicit traffic and terrorism.
Both Morocco and Algeria participate in 5+5, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), and the GCTF; however, political disagreement over the status of Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2014.
Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism (CVE) that prioritizes economic and human development goals in addition to tight control of the religious sphere and messaging. Morocco has accelerated its rollout of education and employment initiatives for youth – the population identified as most vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment – and has expanded the legal rights and political and social empowerment of women. To counter what the government perceives as the dangerous importation of violent Islamist extremist ideologies, Morocco has developed a national strategy to affirm and further institutionalize Morocco's widespread adherence to the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively 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 its version of relatively moderate Sunni Islam. The MEIA-affiliated Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) produces scholarly research on the nation's Islamic values, ensures conformity in educational curricula, and conducts outreach to youth on religious and social topics. 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 within Moroccan expatriate communities in Europe. Throughout 2014, Morocco expanded the regional counter-radicalization efforts to train Malian imams announced in 2013 to include imams from France, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, and Tunisia.
The Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) funded a program to improve the overall management of Morocco's corrections system, which might help deter potential radicalism and the recruitment of prisoners to terrorist ideology. USAID's Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement in Today's Youth (FORSATY, which loosely translates to "my opportunity" in Arabic) project addressed youth marginalization in areas known for recruitment by extremist organizations, helping them stay in school, develop skills, and become active in the community.