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. In 2017, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts effectively mitigated the 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. During the year, authorities reported a decrease in the number of terrorist-related arrests (186) for the first time since 2013.
Following the August attacks in Barcelona, Morocco assisted the Spanish investigation and promised to expand cooperation to track terrorists of Moroccan origin radicalized abroad. The government remained concerned about the threat posed by the return of Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters (estimated at approximately 1,660) and their families. Morocco participates in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and, in September, renewed its term as co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) with the Netherlands.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Morocco effectively investigates, prosecutes, and sentences defendants charged under its comprehensive counterterrorism legislation enacted in 2003 and expanded in 2015. The legislation is in line with UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2178 (2014).
Moroccan 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 Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), which reports to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance and operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals, is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism law enforcement.
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 carriers worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally and to address watchlisted or mala fide travelers. Moroccan airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents, but lacked biometric screening capabilities. In addition, police, customs officers, and Gendarmerie Royal operate mobile and fixed checkpoints along the roads in border areas and at the entrances to major municipalities. Moroccan naval and coast guard units monitor and patrol Morocco’s extensive coastal waters, including the Strait of Gibraltar, to interdict illicit traffickers.
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. Through the Trilateral Initiative funded by the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, Morocco and the United States continued to deliver critical incident management training to African partners. In partnership with the Department of Defense and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces are taking tangible steps 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.
Moroccan authorities reported disrupting a number of alleged terrorist cells throughout the year, announcing that they had arrested 186 individuals and broken up nine cells planning to attack a range of targets, including public buildings and tourist sites.
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 (FIU), the Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier (UTRF), is a member of the Egmont Group. Morocco criminalizes money laundering and terrorist financing in accordance with international standards. Through November 2017, UTRF received 350 suspicious transaction reports. It has signed memoranda of understanding facilitating information exchange with regional FIUs, is working to update current legislation to better implement the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime, and is preparing a national risk assessment to inform more effective counter measures against terrorist financing. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): 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. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’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, which expanded its capacity to 1,800 students in 2017. In Fes, Morocco hosts the Institute for African Islamic Religious Scholars, 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.
In the prisons, the Department of State has supported General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) efforts to modernize prison management, develop prisoner classification tools that keep terrorists segregated from the mainstream prison population, and construct new more secure facilities. To rehabilitate returning foreign terrorist fighters, the DGAPR worked closely with National Center for Human Rights and religious leaders from Rabita Mohammedia. In August, the King pardoned 14 detainees following their renunciation of terrorist views after their successful completion of the DGAPR’s rehabilitation program.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) continued to address youth marginalization in areas known for recruitment by terrorist organizations 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.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco rejoined the African Union in 2017. Morocco is a founding member of the GCTF and is a current co-chair. In 2017, Morocco was a co-chair of the GCTF Foreign Terrorist Fighters working group with the Netherlands. The United States and Morocco were co-leading the Initiative on Addressing Homegrown Terrorism in partnership with the International Institute for Justice and Rule of Law (IIJ). Morocco is a member of the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative. In December, Morocco co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters. Morocco is an active member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League.
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.