Morocco’s anti-terror chief highlights ‘multidimensional strategy’
Casablanca - Morocco has adopted a “multidimensional strategy” to counter terrorism after a number of deadly attacks in the country since 2003, said Abdelhak El Khiyam, director of the FBI-like Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ).
Morocco was a victim of terror attacks in Casablanca in 2003 and Marrakech in 2011, which killed a total of 50 people and injured dozens.
“Our country has paid a heavy price in the 2003 terror attacks on Casablanca. Since that date, Moroccan authorities have noticed that Morocco was being targeted by terror organisations such as al- Qaeda,” Khiyam said in an interview with The Arab Weekly.
King Mohammed VI said in a speech after the Casablanca attacks that the strategy to fight terror would be multifaceted.
“Morocco has since adopted a multidimensional strategy based on socio-economic and religious aspects besides security,” Khiyam said.
“We noticed that Moroccan suicide bombers who perpetrated the Casablanca attacks had a misapprehension of Islam. Morocco had to make sizeable efforts to change this perception through promoting an Islam of tolerance, especially among the youth across the kingdom’s religious spectrum.”
Most of the attackers were from the poor Moulay Rachid neighbourhood of Casablanca.
“The multidimensional strategy is based on boosting security through the reinforcement of the contingent in the fight against terror and the adoption of special anti-terror laws. The Supreme Ulema Council (CSO) was created to unify the fatwas, train preachers as part of the guidelines of the institution of the Commander of the Faithful (King Mohammed VI), which is playing a huge role in fighting all aspects of radicalisation,” Khiyam said.
The CSO is led by King Mohammed VI. It has the sole authority to comment on religious matters and issue fatwas in Morocco based on an Islam of tolerance and coexistence, a tenet of the Malakite branch of Sunni Islam.
“As for the socio-economic aspect, Morocco seeks to improve its citizens’ standard of living while fighting poverty. The National Initiative of Human Development (INDH) led by the king has been playing a major role in eradicating poverty,” he said.
The INDH was launched in 2005 by the Moroccan monarch to ensure a better distribution of the benefits of growth and improving Moroccans’ living conditions.
Since BCIJ’s inception, 518 suspected terrorists have been arrested and 40 cells, 36 of which were said to be linked to the Islamic State (ISIS), dismantled.
The anti-terror body has adopted a pro-active policy to counter terrorism by closely monitoring Moroccan jihadists returning from conflict zones. More than 1,500 Moroccans, including some with dual nationality, are said to be fighting alongside jihadist groups in Syria, Iraq and Libya, BCIJ statistics state.
Khiyam prefers to use “Daesh” — the Arabic acronym for ISIS — instead of ISIS, which he says conveys a false claim to Islam.
With the ISIS setbacks in Iraq and Syria, more jihadists are moving to Libya, which has been in political crisis since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“Daesh has always threatened Morocco because of the country’s geostrategic location. The terrorist group has set up its branch in Libya, which is not far from Morocco,” Khiyam said. “The threat also emanates from the Sahel region and the terrorist Polisario Front, which, according to our research, was involved in terrorist acts and organised crime.”
The Polisario Front is a group seeking self-determination for Western Sahara, which is claimed by Morocco.
“Morocco has always reached out to Algeria to cooperate and coordinate between the two countries on countering terrorism, which threatens to destabilise the region,” Khiyam said, adding that jihadists will eye the vast Sahel region as a safe haven.
ISIS is using various tactics to recruit jihadists, including women and teenagers, from Morocco and abroad with the aim of carrying out attacks in the North African kingdom.
BCIJ arrested a Chad national in May for allegedly leading an ISIS cell in Tangier aiming to commit tourist acts.
“Nowadays everyone can be influenced by this Daesh ideology everywhere in the world and become a lone-wolf terrorist because the internet has facilitated the flow of information,” Khiyam said.
BCIJ gained international stature after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people and were claimed by ISIS. Moroccan intelligence services helped French police track down Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent who allegedly was the mastermind of the attacks.
He was said to be planning even larger attacks but was killed by French security forces.
Many countries targeted by terrorism, such as France, Belgium, Spain and Côte d’Ivoire, have sought Morocco’s help.
“Morocco has been engaged and coordinating with its allies in the war on terror since the al-Qaeda era,” Khiyam said. “So, this is not new. There was counterterrorism coordination well before the Paris attacks.”
Khiyam provided several examples, including information given to Washington about the whereabouts of the Khalden training camp used to train terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
“Morocco has all the time communicated important intelligence information with many European countries to foil terror attacks on their soil,” he said.
“Informing the public is a right that is stipulated in the Moroccan constitution,” Khiyam said. “We want to raise awareness among all Moroccans about the danger of radicalisation on our society.”