USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
Overview: Morocco has a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and counter-radicalization policies. The government has treated counterterrorism as a top priority since the country experienced suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca in 2003, and that focus has been reinforced by attacks in 2007 and 2011. In 2016, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts effectively mitigated the risk of terrorism, although the country continued to face threats, largely from small, independent violent extremist cells. The majority of the cells claimed to be inspired by or affiliated with ISIS.
During the year, authorities reported the disruption of multiple groups with ties to international networks that included ISIS, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and al-Nusrah Front (al‑Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria). According to local media, Moroccan security forces dismantled 18 terrorist cells and conducted 161 terrorism-related arrests in 2016, including of Algerian, Chadian, French, and Italian nationals. The government remained concerned about the potential return of Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters who could conduct attacks at home or potentially in Western Europe. Moroccan authorities reported approximately 1,500 Moroccan nationals are foreign terrorist fighters. As a result of increased international cooperation and vigilance by Moroccan authorities, and consistent with global trends on foreign terrorist fighters, only a few Moroccans departed for Iraq or Syria in 2016.
Morocco is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and participates in all of the Coalition Working Groups. In April 2016, Morocco took over the GCTF co-chair role from Turkey. Morocco and the Netherlands serve as GCTF co-chairs and the co-chairs of the GCTF Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Morocco enacted comprehensive counterterrorism legislation in 2003. In 2015, Morocco expanded existing legislation to address the foreign terrorist fighter threat by widening the definition of terrorist offenses to cover terrorist acts or attempts to join a terrorist group and involvement in recruitment and training activities, making it compliant with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2178 (2014). This law also extended the jurisdiction of national courts to allow the prosecution of foreign nationals who commit terrorist crimes outside Morocco if they are present on Moroccan soil.
Moroccan law enforcement units aggressively targeted and effectively dismantled terrorist cells within the country by leveraging intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with regional and international partners. The Moroccan Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), a central institution established in 2015, is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement. Reporting to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DGST), the BCIJ operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals. The Penal Procedure code grants DGST agents the rank of judicial police officers, allowing them to conduct investigations, questioning, and arrests. The Penal Procedure code also grants DGST officers the recourse to electronic tracking and telephone surveillance upon receiving written consent from the Court of Appeals or a judge.
The General Directorate for National Security (DGSN) is primarily responsible for handling border inspections at established ports of entry such as Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport, where most border crossings occur. Law enforcement officials and private carriers have worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. Moroccan government authorities worked directly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Regional Carrier Liaison Group and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Investigations Attaché office at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca to address watchlisted or mala fide travelers. Moroccan airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents, but currently lack biometric screening capabilities. In addition, the police, customs officers, and Gendarmerie Royal operate mobile and fixed checkpoints along the roads in border areas.
Morocco continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program to support the development of Moroccan law enforcement expertise in the areas of crisis management, border security, and terrorism investigations, and to strengthen regional counterterrorism capabilities to deny space to terrorists and terrorist networks. Under the Trilateral Initiative framework, in 2016 the Governments of Morocco and the United States hosted a course in critical incident management for members of the Senegalese security services. Morocco also continued to partner with the United States 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 analysis; and mentoring and training. Morocco participated in GCTF and Department of Justice programs to improve technical investigative training for police and prosecutors. DGSN, Moroccan Customs, and the Royal Gendarmerie were active partners and participants in DHS‑sponsored training events on border security and financial investigation. Finally, Moroccan government officials participated in several U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation-led courses to improve capacity in intelligence analysis and cybersecurity.
While no terrorist incidents occurred in Morocco in 2016, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts and cooperation with international partners led to numerous disruptions of alleged terrorist cells and prosecutions of associated individuals, including these cases:
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Morocco is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-style regional body. Its financial intelligence unit, the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier (UTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. Morocco criminalizes money laundering violations in accordance with international standards and actively uses the statutes to detect terrorist financing. Through September 2016, UTRF received 297 suspicious transaction reports. UTRF has signed memoranda of understanding facilitating information exchange with regional FIUs. The UTRF is also working to update current legislation to better implement UNSCR 1373 (2001) and the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime. Finally, in alignment with the 2012 FATF Recommendations, the UTRF is preparing a national risk assessment to plan and execute more effective counter measures against terrorist financing.
Moroccan officials are demonstrating success in detecting terrorist financing. In November, a joint BNPJ and BCIJ operation arrested two Turkish nationals and a Moroccan who were involved in diverting a national telephone operator’s communication lines to sell stolen services to raise funds for ISIS. The group had ties with ISIS operational leaders and intended to fund ISIS activities and facilitate the return of foreign terrorist fighters to Europe
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism that prioritizes economic and human development goals in addition to tight control of the religious sphere and messaging. Morocco has accelerated its creation of education and employment initiatives for youth – the population identified as most vulnerable to radicalization and recruitment – and has expanded the legal rights and political and social empowerment of women. To counter what the government perceives as the dangerous importation of violent Islamist extremist ideologies, Morocco has developed a national strategy to affirm and further institutionalize Morocco’s widespread adherence to the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). The MEIA has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams and Morocco is training hundreds of imams from African and European nations at its international imam training center in Rabat. The MEIA-affiliated Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) produces scholarly research, ensures conformity in educational curricula, and conducts youth outreach on religious and social topics.
In July, King Mohammed VI inaugurated the Higher Council for African Ulema in Fez, a center bringing together religious scholars from more than 30 African countries to promote scholarship and counter extremist ideologies in Islam. To counter the radicalization of Moroccans living abroad, the Moroccan Council of Ulema for Europe and the Minister Delegate for Moroccans Living Abroad undertook similar programs to promote moderation within Moroccan expatriate communities in Europe.
The Department of State has supported the efforts of the Moroccan General Delegation of the Penitentiaries and Reinsertion Administration (DGAPR) to reform and modernize the management of its prison system, including increased focus on rehabilitation and successful reintegration into civilian life. The State Department has also assisted the DGAPR in creating and implementing a prisoner classification tool to ensure inmates are living within the lowest required security environment based on the threat they represent. This helps keep violent extremists segregated from the mainstream prison population, limiting their ability to influence and recruit other inmates. These improvements all serve to deter radicalization to violence and recruitment of inmates. A U.S. Agency for International Development project – Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement in Today’s Youth (FORSATY, which loosely translates to “my opportunity” in Arabic) – addressed youth marginalization in areas known for recruitment by terrorist organizations, helping them stay in school, develop skills, and become active in the community.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco is the current co-chair and a founding member of the GCTF and a member of the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism. Morocco also co-chairs the GCTF Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group, which provides a critical platform for developing practical initiatives to help coordinate and build on efforts at the national, regional, and international levels to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and address the complex issues related to their return. Morocco was a founding member of the Malta-based International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ) and regularly participates in IIJ programs.
Morocco is a stable security-exporting partner in North Africa and is the only African nation to contribute military assets to the Defeat-ISIS Coalition campaign in Syria and Iraq. Morocco trains security and law enforcement officials from friendly nations such as Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal. As a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally and a Mediterranean Dialogue (5+5) partner in the EU’s Barcelona Process, Morocco participates in the 5+5 Defense Initiative, which brings together five European and five North African countries to address security issues in the Mediterranean. Morocco also participates in multilateral regional training exercises, such as the maritime-focused PHOENIX EXPRESS and the FLINTLOCK security operations exercise and hosts the annual multilateral AFRICAN LION exercise and MAGHREB MANTLET disaster response exercise. These engagements have enhanced border security and improved capabilities to counter illicit trafficking and terrorism.
Morocco is an active member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a U.S. multi-year interagency regional program aimed at building the capacity of governments in the Maghreb and Sahel to confront threats posed by violent extremists. Both Morocco and Algeria participate in the TSCTP, 5+5 Dialogue, and the GCTF; however, political disagreement over the status of Western Sahara remained an impediment to bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation in 2016.