Morocco Continues to Strengthen Security Efforts, Push for Regional Cooperation
Since the beginning of the year, the dominant terrorism-related stories in North Africa are the continuing inroads by Daesh into Libya and the growing lack of security in Tunisia from external and internal factors. While Morocco and Algeria face fewer threats due to their extensive and effective security measures, this has not diminished the challenges they face, and, in fact, Morocco and Tunisia are under fierce attack in a number of social media postings by Daesh these past two weeks.
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, “The jihadists participating in the campaign call on Muslims to join ISIS strongholds in Tunisia, Libya, Mali and Algeria in order to oust the apostate democratic governments of Tunisia and Morocco and replace them with an Islamic regime based on Sharia law.”
At least four video messages have been released to date from different Daesh branches. The first, from a group in Syria, focused on the Arab Maghreb Union member states (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia), calling on sympathizers in the region to overthrow the “infidel” regimes because of their parliamentary democracies that fly in the face of authoritarian caliphate rule, the incorporation of local religious sensibilities such as Sufi practices, and other “liberal” errors. An analysis of the video indicates the speakers are Libyan, Moroccan, and Tunisian. Sympathizers are encouraged to attack the infidels by all means possible, or failing that, to join Daesh in Libya.
The next video, some 14 minutes in length, from another Daesh group in Syria, continues the previous themes with particular attention to opposing the existing governments and overthrowing their “liberal” practices to end opposition to the caliphate. The Daesh branch in Sinai released a 10 minute video and a six minute video with Moroccan speakers calling out both the regimes and their terrorist competitor, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The governments are attacked for their lack of Islamic legitimacy, and the AQIM for insufficient fervor in attacking the existing regimes and not pledging allegiance to Daesh. Images of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks are prominently featured in the messages specifically directed at Morocco.
Morocco Responds with even Greater Resilience
Morocco has taken a number of critical steps to enlarge its capabilities to deal with immediate terrorist threats, as well as those posed by returning fighters from Iraq and Syria. In addition to setting up its equivalent of the FBI, Morocco plays a critical role in regional and international coalitions that foster information-sharing, tactical training, enhanced surveillance techniques, and better policing techniques.
As importantly, Morocco is broadening the scope of its training of imams and mourchidates (female religious counselors) to include more countries, most recently Nigeria and Ivory Coast; while its efforts to support greater economic and social development throughout the country are accelerating.
These hopeful signs are all the more important when viewed in the regional and African context. It is clear that Islamic extremists have accelerated the pace of their attacks and are keen to enlarge their operations from bases in Libya and West and East Africa. “This is the result of a combination of factors, including competition between extremist groups for attention and, ultimately, recruits and resources, as well as opportunity,” said J. Peter Pham, director of Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, talking about the rise in extremist attacks.
While Morocco is increasing its capabilities through a variety of hard and soft mechanisms, neighboring Algeria is undergoing a restructuring of its security forces, taking them out of the Ministry of Defense and placing them under the control of the President’s office. While this has been welcomed by some as a means of depoliticizing the role of the security services, a recent article in The Weekly Standard warns that these actions without accompanying economic and political reforms expose Algeria to even greater peril. As the article noted, “the regime waged a ruthless war against Islamist militants in the 1990s, a war that cost nearly 200,000 lives, most of them civilians, without solving Algeria’s deeply rooted Islamist problem.”
With North Africa clearly in the sights of Daesh and other Islamic militants, Europe is becoming more immersed in resolving the Libyan conflict as a key step in countering terrorism. At the same time, resolute support for Morocco and its neighbors is vital for any longterm defeat of extremism and for greater economic and social progress.