Rabat, Asharq Al-Awsat – Moroccan political analyst Dr. Mohamed Darif, who specializes in studying Islamist groups, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Moroccan authorities have dismantled dozens of terrorist cells since 2002 thanks to the pre-emptive security approach pursued by Morocco which had made it possible for the Moroccan authorities to foil a large number of these terrorist cells’ plans.
Dr. Darif added that the continuous news in Morocco of terrorist plans being foiled and terrorist cells being dismantled can be explained by the logistical and technical abilities developed by the Moroccan security services, which has allowed Rabat to monitor the activities of such groups.
Answering a question about some people’s suspicions about why so many terrorist cells have been uncovered in Morocco – with Rabat claiming to have dismantled as many as 70 terrorist cells since 2002 – Dr. Darif told Asharq Al-Awsat that the skeptics need only ask themselves one question, and that is: Is Morocco truly being targeted by Al Qaeda?”
Dr. Darif stressed that there are a number of reasons why Morocco would be targeted by Al Qaeda to this extent, not least of which is that Morocco is one of the few countries that has announced its full commitment to the global war on terror. Darif added that the ruler of Morocco, King Mohammed VI, was visiting Mauritania when 9/11 occured, however he cut short this visit and returned to Morocco where he announced that Rabat was fully committed to waging war against terrorism.
Dr. Mohamed Darif stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that ever since this time, Al Qaeda has had a vendetta against Morocco. He also added that we should not forget that one of Al Qaeda’s leading commanders, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, was arrested by the Moroccan authorities in December 2001 and later handed over to Syria. Morocco was also known to have taken part in the controversial US “extraordinary rendition” program, with Guantanamo Bay detainees being rendered to Morocco, including senior member of Al Qaeda Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, who is accused of being a “key facilitator” for the 9/11 attacks, as well as former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, who has subsequently spoken about the torture he suffered there.
Dr. Darif also told Asharq Al-Awsat that some people have said that the 16 May 2003 Casablanca bombings which resulted in the deaths of 45 people were planned by Al Qaeda – and carried out by their affiliate organization Salafia Jihadia – in retaliation for Moroccan security cooperation with the West, particularly the USA.
Further evidence of Morocco’s commitment to combating terrorism, according to Darif, can be seen in the case of the two Moroccan embassy staff who were abducted in Iraq in 2005. Rabat completely refused to negotiate with Al Qaeda for their release, and in fact, the Moroccan Senior Council of Clerics which is headed by King Mohamed VI met [at this time] and issued a statement condemning Al Qaeda as an organization that has nothing to do with Islam.
Darif also indicated that when the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat changed its name to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in January 2007, it issued a statement threatening violence against Morocco if any officials appeared on satellite television to condemn them.
Darif also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Moroccan authorities’ success in dismantling this huge number of terrorist cells is, most of all, due to the authorities’ awareness that their country is being targeted, and has therefore sought to develop strong relations with security apparatus in western countries and the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan.
Darif also indicated that the majority of those arrested in Morocco do not belong to any single organization, for the jihadist salafist ideology is prevalent throughout Morocco. As a result of this, the Salafist jihadists who have been arrested by Morocco are of different trends, and vary in their attitudes towards the authorities which is something that has made it even more difficult for the Moroccan authorities to open a dialogue with them.
Darif added that the majority of cells that have been dismantled since 2005, such as al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, the Ansar al-Mahdi group, al-Murabatoon al-Judud, Fatah al-Andulus, and others, were also accused of trying to recruit fighters for Iraq and Afghanistan.