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Department of State 2017 Counterterrorism Report Commends Morocco’s Efforts – Jean R. AbiNader

U.S. Army Africa Commander, Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg (left), attends a discussion group at the Marrakech Security Forum in Marrakech, Morocco Photo: US Army Africa

Jean R. AbiNader
September 27, 2018

Jean R. AbiNader, Moroccan American Center

In 2017, the number of terrorist-related arrests decreased in Morocco, in large part due to the effectiveness of its counter-terrorism strategy, according to the Department of State’s 2017 Counterterrorism report. “Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies.”  While sporadic threats continue, Morocco’s efforts have generally sustained a high level of stability throughout the country.

Morocco participates in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and continues to serve as co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) with the Netherlands. An important dimension of its cross-border activities is coordination with the EU both to track suspected terrorist activity emanating from Moroccans living abroad, and returning fighters from Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

The report noted that “Morocco’s counterterrorism legislation is in line with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2178 (2014).” Its law enforcement units “coordinating with the Ministry of Interior, aggressively targeted and effectively dismantled terrorist cells by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners.” The primary counterterrorism law enforcement agency is the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ).

The General Directorate for National Security works in coordination with the US and other allies “to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally and to address watch-listed or mala fide travelers.” Although Moroccan airport authorities have developed highly skilled capabilities for detecting fraudulent documents, the report encourages the country to develop its biometric screening capabilities [currently being implemented]. To enhance these efforts, police, customs officials, and Gendarmerie Royal utilize fixed and mobile checkpoints for surveillance along border area roads and routes into major concentrations of people. “Moroccan naval and coast guard units monitor and patrol Morocco’s extensive coastal waters, including the Strait of Gibraltar, to interdict illicit traffickers,” the report points out.

In terms of Morocco’s cooperation with the US, the report said that “Morocco participated in a wide range of U.S.-sponsored programs to improve its technical and investigative capabilities, including financial investigation, intelligence analysis, and cybersecurity.” Another benefit of the bilateral partnership is the training in critical incident management provided to African partners of the Trilateral Initiative funded by the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. The report also referred to the fact that Morocco’s armed forces are working “in partnership with the Department of Defense and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to protect critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks, control and protect logistical hubs, and ensure readiness to prevent or respond to a catastrophic chemical, biological or nuclear terrorist attack.”

Regarding money-laundering and terrorism financing, Morocco is a member of the relevant regional task forces. Its financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier (UTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group. Morocco has signed memoranda of understanding facilitating information exchange with regional FIUs; and is working to update current legislation to better implement the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. It is also preparing a national risk assessment to develop more effective counter measures against terrorist financing.

On the topic of CVE programs, the report highlights that “Morocco has a comprehensive CVE strategy that prioritizes economic and human development in addition to oversight of the religious sphere and messaging. Morocco has accelerated its creation of education and employment initiatives for vulnerable youth. To counter religious extremism, Morocco promotes its moderate interpretation of the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.” This includes an educational curriculum for the country’s nearly 50,000 imams, as well as the hundreds of African and European imams studying at Morocco’s international imam training center in Rabat.

As importantly, Morocco hosts the Institute for African Islamic Religious Scholars in Fez, “which brings together religious scholars from more than 30 African countries to promote scholarship and to counter terrorist ideology. Domestically, the royal Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) counters radicalization to violence by producing scholarly research, ensuring conformity in educational curricula, and conducting youth outreach on religious and social topics,” according to the report.

Prison reformhas also accelerated with technical support provided by the State Department “to modernize prison management, develop prisoner classification tools that keep terrorists segregated from the mainstream prison population, and construct new more secure facilities.” In this regard, Morocco instituted one of the first programs to rehabilitate returning foreign terrorist fighters in coordination with the National Center for Human Rights and religious leaders from the Rabita Mohammedia.

The US government, through USAID, is also active in working with marginalized youth susceptible to recruitment and radicalization “by helping youth stay in school, develop skills, and become active in their communities. In addition, USAID’s Community Oriented Policing Activity provided opportunities for dialogue that has resulted in greater trust and a freer flow of information between police and communities.”

The summary of the Morocco section of the report sums up the value of Morocco’s efforts quite well. “Morocco, a Major Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, is a stable security-exporting partner that trains security, military, and law enforcement officials from sub-Saharan Africa and participates actively in the 5+5 Defense Initiative to address Mediterranean security issues. Morocco hosts the annual multilateral AFRICAN LION exercise and participates in multilateral regional training exercises, such as the maritime-focused PHOENIX EXPRESS and OBANGAME EXPRESS and the FLINTLOCK special operations exercise. Morocco is also an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership. Political disagreement between Morocco and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2017.”

As we have long argued, with friends like Morocco and a constant effort to consult, collaborate, and build trust with our friends, the US regional security efforts will have a high degree of success.

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