This Week in Maghreb and Sahel Security – Caitlin Dearing Scott

Caitlin Dearing Scott, MAC
January 23, 2015

Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Projects, and Programs, MAC

Caitlin Dearing Scott, SVP, Research, Projects, and Programs, MAC

As the security situation continues to deteriorate in Yemen and Libya, the same appears true on the other side of the Middle East. Despite ongoing negotiations, tensions remain rife in northern Mali. On Wednesday, the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) confirmed that it responded to an armed attack against its troops by MNLA rebels in Tabankort – the site of several demonstrations and increased hostilities over the past few weeks. For its part, the MNLA claimed that the UN counterattack – from a MINUSMA helicopter – killed at least 5 people and wounded 20 others. The clash is just the latest in a series that have targeted UN peacekeepers in Mali and underscores the continued capacity for violence of rebel and terrorist groups operating in the country’s north.

This week also saw several other incidents of terrorism in the region, as well as some new measures to confront it. Here is a round-up of the headlines:


  • The Chamber of Representatives of the Moroccan Parliament adopted a new anti-terrorism law aimed at strengthening legal measures to prevent citizens from leaving the country to join foreign terrorist groups. The Parliament agreed to impose 5-15 year prison sentences on citizens attempting to join the Islamic State. The bill amends the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow any Moroccan within the country or abroad, as well as any foreign national in Morocco, to be prosecuted for terrorist offences committed outside Morocco. Such legislative measures are one part of the country’s multi-pronged approach to counter terrorism and extremism.
  • Moroccan security forces dismantled a recruiting cell for Islamic State fighters – part of the Kingdom’s ongoing efforts to prevent the flow of foreign jihadists to Syria.
  • In an article in FairObserver, Nicholas Heras and Amanda Claypool (both at CNAS), commented on the threat the Islamic State poses to Morocco and Jordan. The article underscores the importance of these two Kingdoms in the front line fight against the terrorist group for reasons ranging from their status as key US allies to their strong institutional capacity, state legitimacy, and stability – perhaps offering a model of the type of regime that can best confront the very Islamic radicalization threatening their neighbors throughout the Middle East.
  • Speaking on the “The Daily Rundown” on MSNBC, former US Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg praised US-Morocco cooperation on counterterrorism both in Morocco and in the broader Maghreb, noting, “Morocco is probably the poster child for doing the right thing against Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.”


  • Tunisian security forces arrested a “most-wanted terrorist,” Abdallah Gharbi, in Sidi Bouzid, for his alleged involvement in supporting armed groups in Jebel Chaambi (site of the May 2014 attack on Tunisian soldiers).


  • A bomb exploded near the  Algerian Embassy in Tripoli, wounding three security guards. No one claimed responsibility for the attack and the motive is unclear.
  • The Algerian parliament introduced a new bill against money laundering and terrorist financing to bring domestic law up to international standards and to strengthen “current mechanisms on freezing and confiscating terrorists’ money.”

In other words, this week saw not only ongoing violence, but renewed measures from Maghreb states to confront terrorism through legislative and hard-security means, underscoring that the threat of terrorism – and the need for continued cooperation and creativity to confront it – remains.




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