Overview: The United States and Morocco have excellent and long-standing counterterrorism cooperation. The Government of Morocco continued its comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. In 2018, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts largely mitigated its risk of terrorism, although the country continued to face sporadic threats, largely from small, independent terrorist cells, the majority of which claimed to be inspired by or affiliated with ISIS. Morocco experienced its first terrorist incident since 2011 with the killing of two Scandinavian tourists in December. Morocco is an active participant in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Morocco is also a member of the GCTF and is currently the co-chair of the GCTF with the Netherlands.
2018 Terrorist Incidents: In December 2018, two Scandinavian tourists were killed outside of Marrakesh in an ISIS-inspired attack. This was the first terrorist incident in Morocco since 2011.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: In 2018, Morocco completed a draft law to manage trade in dual-use goods, which would give Moroccan law enforcement the authority to stop the illicit trade and transfer of goods that could be used to create WMDs or to support the development of a WMD program.
In 2018, Moroccan law enforcement under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior, aggressively targeted and reported to have arrested 71 individuals and effectively dismantled more than 20 terrorists cells planning to attack a range of targets, including public buildings, prominent figures, and tourist sites. Moroccan law enforcement leveraged intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners to conduct counterterrorism operations.
The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) remains the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism prosecutions. The BCIJ reports to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance and operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals. The following offers a snapshot of arrests in 2018:
- In March, Moroccan authorities dismantled an eight-person cell that was allegedly planning terrorist attacks in the northern city of Tangier and in central Morocco, seizing hunting weapons, military uniforms, and electronic devices.
- In July, Moroccan authorities arrested four individuals suspected of being connected with ISIS and operating in four cities across the country, as well as linked to a terrorist cell dismantled in May operating in Morocco and Spain.
- In September, Moroccan authorities dismantled a 12-person cell operating in Casablanca and Tangier, which was allegedly planning terrorist attacks and seeking to join ISIS in Syria.
Moroccan law enforcement agencies participated in a wide range of U.S.-sponsored programs to improve the country’s technical and investigative capabilities, including financial investigation, intelligence analysis, and cybersecurity.
In January 2018, the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces created the Joint Standing Committee on Special Operations. The creation of this committee codifies into the military doctrine a single organization responsible for the organizing, training, development, and equipping of all the Moroccan military forces responsible for conducting counterterrorism operations.
Border security remained a top priority for Moroccan authorities. The General Directorate for National Security has primary responsibility for conducting border inspections at ports of entry such as Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport. Law enforcement officials and private airline carriers worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally and to address watchlisted travelers. Moroccan airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents. In addition, police, customs officers, and the Royal Gendarmerie operated mobile and fixed checkpoints along the roads in border areas and at the entrances to major municipalities. Moroccan naval and coast guard units monitored and patrolled Morocco’s extensive coastal waters, including the Strait of Gibraltar, to interdict illicit traffickers.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: There were no significant changes in 2018. Morocco is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) and its FIU, known as the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier, is a member of the Egmont Group.
For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive CVE strategy that prioritizes economic and human development in addition to countering radicalization and oversight of the religious sphere. To counter what it views as religious extremism, Morocco promotes an interpretation of the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam, which it considers moderate. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams as well as for female students (mourchidates). The Royal Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) counters radicalization by producing scholarly research, reviewing educational curricula, and conducting youth outreach on religious and social topics.
In prisons, the Department of State has supported the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration’s (DGAPR’s) efforts to modernize prison management, develop prisoner classification tools, and construct more secure facilities. In August, King Mohammed VI pardoned 14 detainees following their renunciation of terrorist views after their successful completion of the DGAPR rehabilitation program.
USAID continued to address youth marginalization in areas of Morocco more vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations. USAID’s Community Oriented Policing Activity provided opportunities for dialogue that have resulted in greater trust and a freer flow of information between police and communities.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco is currently a co-chair of the GCTF with the Netherlands. Morocco hosted two GCTF events in 2018, the “Initiative to Address Homegrown Terrorism” and the “Workshop on Countering Violent Extremism in Prisons.” The former initiative, co-led by Morocco and the United States, resulted in the “Rabat-Washington Good Practices on the Prevention, Detection, Intervention, and Response to Homegrown Terrorism” that GCTF ministers endorsed in September 2018. Also in September, Morocco co-launched with the United States the GCTF “Initiative on Improving Capabilities for Detecting and Interdicting Terrorist Travel Through Enhanced Terrorist Screening and Information Sharing,” with the goal of developing good practices for interdicting terrorist travel through building watchlist capability, improving border control, and increasing information sharing. In June, Morocco hosted a Political Directors Meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with a regional focus on Africa. In January, AU members elected Morocco to the Peace and Security Council of the AU, after Morocco rejoined the AU in 2017.
Morocco is a major non-NATO ally. Morocco hosted the annual AFRICAN LION exercise and participated in multilateral regional training exercises. Morocco is an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). Morocco also has strong cooperation with European partners – especially Belgium, France, and Spain – to thwart potential terrorist threats in Europe.