RABAT, (Reuters) – Morocco’s King Mohammed vowed on Friday to step up security cooperation with neighbouring Algeria to weed out terrorism in the Maghreb region.
Analysts have said strained relations between Algiers and Rabat over the Western Sahara dispute have reduced their security cooperation to the “minimum”. But in a condolence message sent to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after eight soldiers were killed on Wednesday in an attack claimed by al Qaeda, Mohammed said terrorism had become “the primary menace to the region’s stability”. “(The King) reaffirmed his permanent readiness and support for strong bilateral cooperation to mobilise all our energies and combine all our efforts to weed out terrorism from our region,” the official news agency MAP quoted him as saying.
Last week, Morocco raised its security alert level to the highest rating of “maximum”, suggesting an attack was imminent. Morocco’s Interior Ministry said it had obtained recent intelligence information on the threat but gave no details.
The Maghreb region has been on alert since al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, the Algeria-based Al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, threatened to escalate its war against “corrupt” regional rulers and their Western allies.
Al Qaeda’s Maghreb branch claimed responsibility for attacks in Algeria in the latest four months, including three in Algiers on April 11 when 33 people were killed and another on Wednesday that killed eight soldiers at an army barracks east of Algiers.
In March and April in Casablanca, seven suicide bombers detonated devices — two outside U.S. diplomatic facilities. The attacks killed all of the suicide bombers and one policeman.
At the time, the government in Rabat dismissed local media speculation of a link between attacks in Algiers and the death of the suicide bombers in Casablanca.
Al Ahdath al Maghribia, well-informed in security matters, said on Friday al Qaeda shifted its strategy in Morocco by focusing on seasoned operatives after the failure of its previous tactics early this year when it recruited bombers without experience. “Al Qaeda organisation altered its plan in Morocco and picked trained members who had operated in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Arabic-language daily said, quoting security sources.
The newspaper said anti-terrorism police were hunting two al Qaeda operatives, who sneaked into Morocco to prepare attacks.
It said Western intelligence provided detailed information on the two, who “had taken part in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq before they instructed by al Qaeda to go to Morocco”. “They have huge experience in manufacturing explosives, guerrilla war organisation and the use of booby-trapped cars,” it added. Government officials were not available to comment.
Meanwhile, Moroccan police have detained 15 radical Islamists on suspicions of plotting terror attacks in the North African country, the justice minister said. “Arrests had been made, according to the information from the Kingdom’s public prosecutor. Fifteen detainees are in custody, three of them had been extradited by Libya,” Ahmed Bouzouba told Assabah newspaper in an interview published on Friday.
The minister’s top aide confirmed to Reuters Bouzouba’s remarks. Neither Bouzouba nor his aide gave details on the three Moroccans arrested in Libya before their extradition to Rabat.