Concerns in Morocco over home-grown jihadists
Stockholm - Moroccan security services raised the country’s terror alert to its highest level following the terror attacks in Paris and the arrest in Turkey of Moroccans suspected of joining the Islamic State (ISIS) has drawn attention to the North African country’s jihadist problem.
“The security services have been mobilised in sensitive areas of the kingdom to control the situation calmly. We always prepare for the worst scenarios,” a security official told Alyaoum24.
Socialist MP Ahmed Reda Chami confirmed on Twitter the elevation of the alert a few minutes after the Paris attacks on November 13th, posting: “Morocco: Alert status raised to the highest level after the attacks in France to deal with any eventuality. No panic, it’s a normal procedure.”
Morocco was part of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS jihadists in Syria and Iraq but Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Fox News in April that Morocco withdrew from the alliance.
Morocco had been a target of terrorist organisations well before the January attack on the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.
“Morocco has always been a target of terrorist networks. Rabat has announced today (November 16th) that a jihadist cell was dismantled in Beni Mellal… We now hear such news almost every week,” analyst Mountacir Zian said.
Morocco’s Interior Ministry said the four suspects arrested in Beni Mellal were at an advanced stage of preparing terrorist acts in the kingdom. “The alleged leader of this criminal gang had established contacts with the Islamic State leaders to get logistical support for terrorist acts,” it added.
“ISIS jihadists consider all those who ally with ‘the crusaders’ as their enemies. So Morocco falls in that line,” said Zian, director-general of the Mediterranean Company of Analysis and Strategic Intelligence.
ISIS has expanded its operations to North Africa, taking advantage of a deteriorating security situation in the region since 2011. Libya has become a haven for ISIS and other jihadist formations. Hundreds of jihadists from North Africa have trained there before heading to Iraq, Syria and other hotspots.
The Tunisian government says 3,000 Tunisians have joined the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. It also claimed it prevented 12,490 people from joining the wars.
There are more than 3,000 jihadists of Moroccan origin who are fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad, However, the figure could be much higher.
Turkey has begun deporting Moroccans detained at Istanbul’s main airport over suspected links to ISIS. The eight, who said they went to Istanbul on holiday, were detained by border police and questioned by profiling experts who flagged them as suspected militants, a government official said.
Some of the suspects have been deported. The others are being questioned but will be sent to Morocco soon, a second official said.
The deportations came just two weeks after Ankara expelled 41 Moroccans, also detained at Ataturk airport on suspicion of going to join ISIS.
“We should ask ourselves why these people joined the ISIS group,” said Zian, citing poverty and exclusion as reasons behind their radicalisation.
“Some of those who are fighting for ISIS will certainly flee the Russian bombardments in Syria and come back to Morocco, which will present the biggest risk to the country,” warned Zian, who called on the government to take serious measures to de-radicalise jihadists in prisons and reintegrate them into society in an efficient manner.
Morocco’s Higher Council of Ulemas issued a fatwa on November 14th explaining the concept of jihad and rejecting violence and terrorism.
In response to the Paris attacks, the council said “jihad with weapons” is a remedy in cases of “extreme necessity” when Muslims are “attacked by their enemies and that all peaceful means fail”.
The minister of Religious Affairs issued a statement urging preachers to “light up” citizens by demonstrating that all forms of violence and coercion have nothing to do with Islam.