Caitlin Dearing Scott, MAC
June 9, 2016
2015 was a remarkable year for Morocco in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism. From helping French authorities track down the Paris attackers to the establishment of its imam training school, acknowledged as an innovative means of isolating extreme forms of Islam, it is clear that Morocco has made counterterrorism (CT) and CVE (countering violent extremism) top policy priorities both domestically and abroad. Morocco has prioritized continued vigilance to promote security and engagement on religious and development issues to ensure stability. As a result, this year’s State Department report on terrorism, released last week, lauds Morocco’s “comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies.”
On the security front, Morocco has dismantled terrorist cells “by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners,” as noted in the State Department report. Its success in this regard owes largely to the country’s holistic approach. Over the last year, Morocco has undertaken both security sector and legislative reform aimed principally at disrupting recruitment and monitoring terrorist returnees (approximately 1,500 Moroccans have joined terrorist organizations since 2011). For one thing, Morocco established the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) with principal law enforcement responsibility for counterterrorism. By bringing various elements of the security sector under a central institution, the BCIJ works to bolster “security governance nationwide within a legal and transparent framework.” Morocco also sought to bring the legal system to the fight against terrorism. Last June, Parliament enacted amendments to the criminal code to address the issue of foreign fighters. These amendments criminalize “joining, or attempting to join a terrorist group; receiving terrorist training; and terrorist recruiting.”
Morocco has also worked with international partners to further improve its domestic capabilities. With the US, this includes:
- Cooperation with US Customs and Border Protection and DHS to address watch-listed travelers;
- Participation in the State Department Antiterrorism Assistance program, “which provided the DGSN and the Royal Gendarmerie with training in investigating terrorist incidents, post-blast investigations, cyber forensics, crime scene forensics, critical incident management, and executive leadership;”
- Partnership to “ improve the police criminal investigation process through the development and implementation of chain of custody and evidence management procedures; forensic evidence collection and analysis, including DNA; and mentoring and training;”
- Participation in DHS-sponsored training on “border security, financial investigation, and counter-proliferation topics” and FBI-sponsored training to “improve capacity in intelligence analysis, facial recognition, and leadership and management;” and
- Support from the Department of State to reform and modernize the prison system, with a focus on limiting the spread of extremism in prisons and rehabilitating and reintegrating prisoners upon release.
In addition, Morocco is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, engaged in regular military exercises with the US, and recently took over as co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
The Kingdom’s non-security efforts concentrate on human development and the promotion of moderate Islam in order to eliminate some of the root causes of terrorism and extremism. Over the past decade, this has included efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and advance the standard of living for all Moroccans, especially women and children; promote economic growth and economic opportunities; and “further institutionalize Morocco’s widespread adherence to the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.” The latter has included upgrading mosques, developing curricula for Imams, promoting scholarly research through the Mohammedan League of Ulema on the nation’s Islamic values; and engaging to youth on religious and social issues.
Most notably, in 2015 Morocco established the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates, which aims to prepare the next generation of Muslim religious leaders from across the region to counter extremist interpretations of Islam. The program, which trains imams from Morocco and abroad to preach, practice and teach moderate Islam, is a unique and powerful weapon against violent extremism. In addition to 150 Moroccan imams and 100 Moroccan mourchidates, the Institute has trained imams and mourchidates from Côte d’Ivoire, France, Guinea, Mali, and Tunisia. Also in 2015, Morocco launched the Mohammed VI Foundation for African Oulema to support Moroccan and African theologians and scholars in promoting religious tolerance and moderation on the continent. The Foundation will also support the establishment of religious and scientific schools and cultural centers to spread the values of moderate Islam.
Morocco’s prioritization of CT and CVE in both domestic and foreign policy – and its willingness to take a regional leadership role to advance security and stability – are the reasons it continues to be valued as a counterterrorism ally for the US, Europe, and its African neighbors.