Dealing with major security threats in the Mediterranean
The terror attack in Las Ramblas in Barcelona was carried out in the same manner as attacks by Islamic State-connected lone wolves in England, Germany, Sweden, France and Austria. This shows that terror actions by the Islamic State (ISIS) are no longer limited to a specific geographical area, a particular type of action or a specific profile of attackers.
The constant threat from ISIS led Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to declare: “Today, the fight against terrorism is the principle priority of free and open societies like ours. It is a global threat and the answer must be global.”
It is within the context of the global fight against terror that Morocco is working closely with its northern neighbour to implement a comprehensive programme to combat terror inside the kingdom. The plan includes tackling the issue from economic, social, legal, spiritual, security and political angles. The events in Barcelona are reason enough to strengthen security and intelligence cooperation between Spain and Morocco.
Many terrorist actions planned to be carried out in Morocco and European countries, including Spain, have been neutralised. These successes, however, do not mean that the objective causes of terror and its spread have been wiped out. They remain in place and require new and better approaches.
It is also true that the recent terrorist acts in Europe and the Middle East put all countries on high alert. Morocco’s experience dealing with terrorism locally, regionally and internationally has shown that close cooperation in the Mediterranean region is effective in monitoring and neutralising terrorist cells.
Terrorist organisations try to take full advantage of the differences in various international parties’ approaches to the war on terror. They attempt to make sure that the same conditions leading to terror are reproduced in different forms and under different labels.
The biggest challenge, therefore, is understanding the intertwined connections and aims of this war and dealing with them without distinction. To deal with the expansion of ISIS, there is no alternative to serious and effective international cooperation.
Jihadist organisations in general — and ISIS in particular — are trying to reposition themselves geographically by shifting roles between the centre and the periphery. ISIS seems to have shifted its plans and its ideological weight from Syria and Iraq to Libya, the Sahel and the Sahara after obtaining the allegiance of major extremist organisations in those areas. Indications from Iraq and Syria seem to confirm that ISIS is restructuring itself and changing its methods.
Three years after the appearance of the group in the Middle East, it is expected ISIS will move from its headquarters in Iraq and Syria to the periphery. It is also expected that ISIS will switch its strategy from direct confrontation with Washington and Moscow to new fronts on land and sea borders with Europe. The Barcelona attack is an illustration of this strategic shift.
The shift in ISIS’s strategic choices is further evidenced by the many sudden and new terrorist acts in Europe. In May, newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron visited the French military base in Mali, perhaps as part of efforts to dam the spread of global jihad and undo its layered organisation.
ISIS has made efficient use of cyberspace to spread its extremist ideology across the globe. It has diversified its cyber recruitment methods and terrorist tools. Alex Younger, head of British intelligence (MI6), admitted that highly organised units inside ISIS are planning new ways to export violence to the United Kingdom and its allies without leaving Syria.
The aim behind the Barcelona attack was to shake the foundations of peaceful coexistence between Muslims in Spain, especially Moroccan Muslims, and the Spanish population and produce suitable conditions to recruit suicide bombers from the Muslim community.
ISIS is trying to mutate to adjust to the new context, while regional and international powers try to strangle its resources, uncover its cells and limit its choices. Jason Pack, founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya, spoke of the group’s “genius” in being able to “continuously mutate.”
This is why the war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq is accompanied by international efforts to defeat its followers in Libya. This was the reason behind replacing UN Special Representative for Libya Martin Kobler from Germany with Ghassan Salamé from Lebanon. Salamé advocates giving top priority to the fight against terror as part of the UN programme for Libya.
Morocco participated with warring Libyan sides and other international parties to draft the Skhirat Accords, a road map to a political solution in Libya. Those accords remain fundamental to any political agreement in Libya and crucial to the elimination of ISIS from the Mediterranean.