Pre-emptive measures thwart ISIS attempts to target Morocco
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.