Updated

Morocco on the Offensive against Daesh – Jean R. AbiNader

Seeks to Eliminate Islamic State Threat through Holistic Strategy

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
April 11, 2016

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Calls for greater regional cooperation and intelligence-sharing regarding terrorist cells quickly followed the latest attacks and arrests in Belgium and France, once again highlighting the critical role played by Morocco, the leading US and European security partner in North Africa. At a recent press conference, the head of Morocco’s recently formed anti-terrorism unit broadened warnings to include possible chemical attacks.

Abdelhak Khiame announced that his team had broken up 25 plots in 2015, and that one of the cells was developing and testing chemical weapons for possible use against Morocco. Initially arrested for allegedly smuggling weapons in to Morocco from Libya, the members were also in possession of precursors of mustard gas, Khiame reported. He said that targets included four cities in Morocco as well as a suicide bomber strike.

Alluding to the regional implications of the arrests, Mr. Khiame said that “It’s very possible that Daesh would use this process to target Britain and other EU countries. It already has brigades of children and we know they train them in their camps looking to use them in terrorist attacks in Europe. As for chemical weapons, we have seen here how easy they are to prepare.”

According to reporting in the Daily Mail, Last month it emerged that US Special Forces had captured ISIS’s chemical weapons chief — and he admitted the group was planning to use mustard gas in future attacks. According to CNN, the US military has conducted airstrikes against “targets it believes are crucial to ISIS’s chemical weapons program.”

Morocco Continues Proactive Strategies

An article published in Fair Observer last year noted that Morocco (and Jordan)
“[are] the model of the state, where the ruling regime is buttressed by legitimacy created from strong state institutions, that will lead to long-term stability in the Middle East.” Yet because that legitimacy is in large part based on their rulers’ direct tie to the Prophet Mohammed, they may be vulnerable to Daesh’s counterclaims to Islamic legitimacy. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi claims to “have similar tribal lineage to the Prophet Muhammad and has self-styled [emphasis added] himself as the Leader of the global Muslim community.”

It is not surprising that Morocco prefers to focus on containing and eradicating threats rather than arguing prophetic claims. King Mohammed VI of Morocco, a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed rather than related to the tribe of the Prophet, has initiated the most proactive and holistic approach to countering terrorism from Daesh and other extremists. While this may seem a bit of a spurious argument, it matters to efforts to undermine the central arguments made by Daesh to be the dawn of the new Islamic orthodoxy.

Morocco’s approach was well-defined by Professor Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies on a recent visit to Washington, DC where he met with think tanks and the media.

He pointed out the many threats in the region, including Daesh, other extremists, and human and drug traffickers, who occasionally coordinate their intelligence and resources. There is increased concern about drug trafficking due to the influx of Latin American cartels. Trafficking makes up 25% of the global cocaine market and supplies 32% of the demand in Europe. Moreover, the corrupting influence of drug money on local governments is a concern.

In response to these challenges, Morocco has a three pillar strategy, Professor Benhammou explained. First, good governance and security governance are essential – reforming government institutions and services combined with the hard power of effective security services. Second, the program of training imams from throughout the region in the moderate values of Maliki Islam, and “managing mosques” – emphasizing their role as religious not political centers. Third, prioritizing human development and the improvement of the economic and social deficit in poorer areas in order to eliminate one of the root causes of extremism.

Professor Benhammou conceded that the fight against terrorism will be ongoing for at least a decade, and that while Moroccan security services have done and continue to do an excellent job in tracking terrorists and other bad actors, more regional cooperation is needed to fight the problem, along with long-term solutions like human development, to reach lasting success.

Referring to North Africa specifically, Professor Benhammou stressed that everyone in the region needs to act as responsible states and move out of historical paradigms to promote security, stability, and inclusive democracy. It is this longer term vision, combined with aggressive and diligent policies to eliminate the root causes and consequences of terrorism that mark Morocco as a significant leader and ally in this campaign.

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