Category Archives: Morocco

Moroccan Authorities Should be Praised and Not Criticized!

By Rida Lyammouri

May 17th, 2016

13 years after Casablanca attacks, Moroccan authorities did a tremendous job keeping violence off the country and its people and visitors safe, so thank you!

On May 13, 2016 Moroccan authorities dismantled a jihadist cell in Tangier with ties to the so-called Islamic State. This would have been a routine and incident local and foreign observers became accustomed to. Cells with ties to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are dismantled in Morocco every month. However the fact that the main suspect was of Chadian citizenship it brought the issue to a whole different level and got more attention. Interior Ministry of Morocco stated that the suspect arrived from Chad to Morocco May 4th, 2016 with plans to establish an Islamic State branch east of Morocco, and was assigned to recruit and train Moroccans and Algerians attracted to ISIS jihadist ideology.

Surely there are a lot of questions to be asked about this arrest and about the information provided by Moroccan authorities but clearly local forces are not taking any chances. Initial investigations and video revealed that the suspect was in possession of plastic bags, powder and liquids used to make explosives. Additional items recovered in his apartment included pressure cooker, batteries, electric cables, metal balls, and armored vests designed to carry explosives. Investigators also discovered printed documents on how to build explosives, and video recordings of potential targets in Tangier, Morocco. Targets included hotels, military installations, security forces, and western diplomatic missions present in the country. Statement also said the suspect was able to gather all the information and materials with assistance from other members of the cell while no information were revealed about other suspects. To encourage recruitment the cell was aiming at kidnapping and executing members of local forces, in addition to foreign nationals.

These are images of items found at the suspect’s apartment.

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Video of strategic locations in Tangier

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Items used to build explosives

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Armored vests

The suspect was flagged and put under surveillance since his arrival to Morocco May 4th, 2016 to Casablanca international airport Mohammed V. Maybe a stretch but this could indicate ISIS will attempt more to depend on foreign recruits or sympathizers, notably from Sahel countries, to carry attacks in Morocco. Most of homegrown ISIS supporters traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, while majority of remaining domestic cell been cracked down by local authorities. This incident came couple weeks after Islamic State branch in Grand Sahara based in northern Mali released first statement threatening to target Moroccan forces, foreign interests, and peacekeeping members operating in southern Morocco. This is not the first time Morocco claimed to dismantle cells with ties to Sahel jihadist groups. In November 2012 Moroccan Interior Ministry announced that it has dismantled a jihadi recruiting cell that sent fighters to fight in northern Mali. In December 2012 Morocco also claimed that at least 20 fighters traveled to Mali to join the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA).

Claims by local authorities in Morocco are difficult to confirm because of limited information shared with the public. Even Moroccans living in Morocco finding it hard to believe there is serious threat in the country. The availability of weapons and explosives is also something majority of Moroccan don’t take seriously. I used to have the same perception but that changed when gunfire exchange woke me up early in the morning December 2003 when a cell was dismantled by local security forces in my parents’ neighborhood. That was first time I ever-heard gunshots in my life and happened while visiting my parents at my hometown, Meknes. This incident was just six months after the Casablanca synchronized attacks of May 2003. The cell dismantled was planning attacks on local MacDonald and a Luxury hotel in the city. This incident and others were not widely reported as it is the case today with social media and international interest. That was also thirteen years ago when today’s jihadist groups in the region were non-existent. Today they are well connected, more organized, and more equipped than ever before.

Still fresh in everyone’s memory Morocco was already taking necessary steps to prevent other attacks similar to Casablanca, and threat was real. Morocco’s efforts were not limited to the use of force. During my next visit in 2005-06 I found out that some countering violent extremism (CVE) work was already in place to prevent radicalizing more youth. Next to my parents’ complex authorities [maybe with foreign partners] built a mosque, a youth community center, and soccer and a basketball court to occupy disadvantaged youth. During same visit I also found out, unfortunately, that someone I knew from same neighborhood traveled through European country to Iraq where he conducted a suicide attack with his wife, so there was a lot of work still to be done.

These examples from more than a decade ago demonstrate that threat in Morocco existed long before ISIS. Threat was there before international community and observers started paying attention in 2011-2012 when the country emerged as one of main exporters of fighters to jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, and way before “foreign fighters” term became so sexy and money making. Until now Moroccan authorities succeeded at preventing violent attacks on the Moroccan soil. The approach is working and nations struggling are seeking their collaboration and assistance, especially European countries. ISIS and other extremist groups will continue to make efforts and exploit any opportunities to attack Morocco. However for now Moroccan authorities should be praised, and not criticized, for keeping violence out of the country.

Every summer before booking my trip to Morocco my wife asks me if it’s safe. My response of course is yes, it’s safe. Things could happen anywhere of course as we witnessed in more developed countries with more sophisticated security forces. But for now I am able to go every summer to enjoy my vacation and to visit my family. And this is true also for thousands of tourists, including those questioning claims and efforts made by Moroccan forces.

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My Daughter enjoying peaceful view over the Mediterranean

 

 

 

Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui Threatens Morocco

By Rida Lyammouri

May 7th, 2015

Al-Jazeera Arabic reported on 04 May 2016 to have received an audio recording from so called Islamic State in Grand Sahara. Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui, leader of the group and who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in May 2015, delivered the statement. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui called to attack the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) posts in the area. In addition to attacking Moroccan forces and western organizations, the statement also called on targeting western tourists present at different resorts throughout Morocco. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui encouraged all Muslims present on the land of Maghreb to pledge allegiance and join the Islamic Caliphate.

The timing of this statement came after long period of silence by Abu Walid al-Sahraoui. Since pledging allegiance to Islamic State the group went into hiding and have not conducted any notable attack. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui’s men are believed to be holding Romanian hostage taken from Burkina Faso in April 2015. While threats are to be taken seriously, it is worth noting that the group operated mainly in Gao region on the borders with Niger and maybe in central Mali on the borders with Burkina Faso. Thus is unclear how much access and capabilities al-Sahraoui’s men have to seriously threaten southern Morocco.

Certainly the name of Abu Walid al-Sahraoui draw a lot of attention between Moroccan and Algerian media outlets. When the statement was released the focus should have been on the group and threats it poses in the region. However Moroccan and Algerian media were quick at jumping at this to draw their non-founded analysis like here and here.

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Image of Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahraoui

If confirmed this is first appearance of Abu Walid al-Sahraoui since he pledged allegiance to Islamic State in May 2015. Although El Watan, Algerian newspaper, reported on 17 June 2015, citing unnamed security officials, that Abu Walid al-Sahraoui had been wounded in armed clashes with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Violent clashes were never confirmed by additional sources and supposedly were result of tensions caused by Abu Walid al-Sahroui defection with group of his fighters from al-Qaeda to Islamic State. Abu Walid al-Sahraoui was one of key leaders of AQIM offshoot, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). For more on this see my post published in December 2015.

Neither MUJWA or AQIM, or so-called Islamic State in Grand Sahara conducted violent attacks in southern Morocco despite notable concerns due to the occupation of northern Mali by jihadist groups in 2012. The only notable incident close to the area is the kidnapping of three humanitarian workers in October 2011 from Tindouf camp in Algeria. The kidnapping was later claimed by MUJWA.

This is not the first time a jihadist group released a threat message to Morocco. However Morocco remains the only North African country not to experience violent attacks by cells operating under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Important number of Moroccan fighters joined jihadist groups in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. In response Morocco implemented several new policies and program to reduce threat of returning fighters. Moroccan authorities also dismantled important number of armed cells tied to Islamic State.