Experts examine radicalisation factors of Moroccans
Casablanca - The disproportionate number of Moroccans involved in recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, London, Turku and Barcelona drew attention to radicalisation factors in Morocco, which is fighting Islamist extremism on its own soil.
A van ramming into pedestrians on Barcelona’s famed tourist boulevard Las Ramblas and a similar attack in the seaside resort town of Cambrils killed 15 people and wounded more than 100 others. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A 12-member terror cell accused of carrying out the attacks included brothers and childhood friends from the small Spanish border town of Ripoll. Most of the young men were from Morocco and were known for being well-integrated into their tiny community.
“It would be a mistake to generalise from the case of some deviant activists who obviously do not represent the Moroccan people. In Spain and Belgium, for example, the immigrant community is predominantly Moroccan, as it may be predominantly Algerian in France or Tunisian in other countries,” said Charles Saint-Prot, director of the Observatory for Geopolitical Studies in Paris.
“One cannot stigmatise a whole people because of the actions of a few and it must be clear that there is no national factor predestining a particular foreign national to commit criminal acts. The causes of these acts must be sought elsewhere.”
Families of the attackers accused Abdelbaki Es Satty, an imam in Ripoll, of recruiting and brainwashing the young men but worshippers in the mosque insisted that Satty preached only from the Quran.
Satty, a Moroccan who was imprisoned from 2010-14 for drug trafficking, arrived in Ripoll in 2015. He was killed August 16 by a powerful explosion in a house in Alcanar, where police uncovered a cache of 120 gas canisters in what they said was the suspects’ bomb factory.
Saint-Prot said there are several factors that can lead to radicalisation and criminalisation.
“First, there is the psychological weakness of some who allow themselves to be trapped by extremist slogans and follow leaders who manipulate them in the name of a deviant conception of religion that some people know little or not at all,” he said.
“The second factor, therefore, is the ignorance of what is the true message of Islam, which is the religion of the happy medium, of tolerance and of the refusal of extremes. Fanaticism is characteristic of weak and ignorant minds. It is noteworthy that many terrorists are better known as ordinary criminals than religious activists. We also cannot neglect the terrorists’ refusal to integrate into society and their hatred in an irrational manner.”
Saint-Prot emphasised that propaganda on the internet plays an influential role in driving fragile people to extremism.
“The religious pretext is, therefore, an imposture as well as the references to the conflicts in the Middle East because these extremists have never been seen militating for Palestine or against the intervention of the United States in Iraq. In any case, they betray the Arab causes and caricature them as they betray Islam and play the ideology of the clash of civilisations,” he said.
Politicians and government officials in Morocco and Europe are struggling to find ways to fight youth radicalisation by promoting a moderate version of Islam based on coexistence and tolerance.
In an interview with The Arab Weekly last December, Morocco’s anti-terror chief said the country had adopted a strategy based on socioeconomic, religious and security aspects since 2003.
Terror attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and Marrakech in 2011 killed a total of 50 people and injured dozens.
Saint-Prot said Morocco was the only southern country that is seriously fighting terrorism by opposing the radicals, both on the security front and ideological level.
“It is true that the function of Commander of the Believers of King Mohammed VI gives him a special authority in religious matters and makes him the leader of moderate Islam. Everyone knows that the monarchy is the best guarantee against extremism and fanaticism. Morocco’s role in the fight against terrorism and maintaining regional stability is unanimously appreciated by the European countries,” Saint-Prot said.
Lhoussain Azergui, an analyst at the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre in Brussels, told RSI.ch that radical Islam was, decades ago, funded by the Moroccan state.
“There is an increasing presence of Moroccans in the European terrorist networks because of a strong intrusion within the Moroccan society of Wahhabism, which is a very radical view of Islam, a Saudi way of thinking. A growing presence linked to the fact that these countries finance mosques, cultural associations and libraries that carry this interpretation,” said Azergui.
“However, it is a phenomenon that the Moroccan government has deliberately fuelled since the 1980s to counteract the ideology of the left and the radical left that had more and more political weight in the country. That is why the authorities have encouraged political Islam,” he said.
Saint-Prot categorically rejected Azergui’s claim.
“This kind of ridiculous statement must warn us against the statements of so-called specialists who are sometimes charlatans, sometimes ideologues who pursue dark intentions, sometimes both at the same time,” said Saint-Prot.