Pre-emptive measures thwart ISIS attempts to target Morocco

Sunday 18/09/2016
Ammunition and weapons seized by Moroccan authorities

RABAT - Morocco has made a steady effort to confront terrorism through monitoring sleeper cells and dis­mantling terrorist groups. As part of this pre-emptive security policy, which has been widely recognised as efficient, the Interior Ministry recently announced the destruction of an Islamic State-linked cell that was purportedly planning attacks in Oujda, Saidia, Fez and Debdou.
Despite the change of tactics and infiltration techniques that proved successful in other countries, the Islamic State (ISIS) has been un­able to attack Moroccan or foreign interests in the kingdom. It appears that the Moroccan authorities have remained vigilant, relying on in­telligence about ISIS methods and movements to foil several terrorist threats said to be in advanced stag­es of preparation.
Abderrahim Manar Slimi, chair­man of the Maghreb Centre for Se­curity Studies and Policy Analysis, told Al Arab that “the geo-strategic location of Morocco makes it a prime target for jihadists. ISIS, in fact, aspires to open routes between southern Europe and North Africa for dispersed fighters in northern Mali and southern Algeria after they were forced from the Libyan city of Sirte”.
Information obtained from mem­bers of recently dismantled cells shows ISIS elements, who have been recruiting, planning and financing terrorist plans, are stationed close to the Moroccan-Algerian border and the buffer zone between Mo­rocco and Mauritania.
According to official information, ISIS has leaders who hold Moroccan citizenship and there are believed to be more than 1,600 Moroccan ji­hadists in Syria, Iraq and Libya, of whom about half have pledged al­legiance to ISIS.
Moroccan Interior Minister Mo­hamad Hassad did not shy away from revealing the extremists’ in­tention to return and carry out ter­rorist operations inside Morocco.
In May, ISIS issued an audio re­cording threatening — for the first time — to target tourist complexes, security sites and headquarters of foreign companies in Morocco.
“The terrorist group is consider­ing a number of attacks, counting, in this, on local members who have never left the country,” Manar Slimi said. “Some of whom are in close contact with other radicals in Syria, Libya and Moroccan detention fa­cilities, like the suspected element who was recently arrested follow­ing the dismantling of the three-member terrorist cell in Oujda.
“So far, Moroccan intelligence services have succeeded in con­fronting the escalating threat of ISIS, in spite of the regional instabil­ity, insecurity in some border areas, and the attempts of ISIS to infiltrate the Moroccan territory from the south, especially from the Sahel region and the Moroccan Sahara or from the east and the north.”
Abdelhak el-Khayam, director-general of the Judicial Research Central Office, confirmed that Mo­rocco had its security alert at the highest levels and was monitoring the borders and terrorist threats, es­pecially from the Tindouf region in southern Algeria.
As a result of sensitive relations between Morocco and Algeria, which has been involved in sup­porting and financing the Polisario Separatist Front of Western Sahara, the difficulty lies in ensuring coor­dination at the highest level to ward off terrorist threats.
Moroccan authorities have been coordinating with European coun­tries, notably France and Belgium, towards curbing ISIS threats.
The security cooperation has helped France and Belgium ward off terrorist attacks, including an at­tempt to hit the headquarters of the French intelligence services.
“Because of this cooperation, ISIS is trying to put an end to success of the Moroccan intelligence model in fighting terrorism and eliminating its nests. Unfortunately, the terror­ist attempts are in perfect harmony with the interests of some regional intelligence services that are striv­ing to change the balance. And, this reveals the danger emanating from some border areas,” said Manar Slimi.