by Mawassi Lahcen
by Mawassi Lahcen
Casablanca, October 16, 2011
A new al-Qaeda tactic breaks from the usual system of training camps and operational cells. According to the stratagem just unveiled in Morocco, the terrorist goes it alone.
And that is what worries authorities the most.
After the “Lone Wolf in Morocco” terror planning primer was circulated on jihadist websites in mid-September, Moroccan security authorities immediately heightened web traffic monitoring. In just three weeks, three terror cells were dismantled and the alleged writer of the manifesto was under arrest.
The real “Lone Wolf” strategist, however, is still out there, according to the writer of a new document that appeared Sunday (October 10th) on the internet.
Experts say that this cyber-spectre emerged in response to a suggestion from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. In an audio recording released on the anniversary of September 11th, he incited his followers to target Morocco.
Through the internet, new members are recruited by al-Qaeda operatives in the Sahel, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. They absorb jihadist ideology and learn to make improvised explosive devices online, not in the training camp. Their goal is to strike symbols of the state, the security apparatus and consulates and foreign properties in Morocco.
They are different from their predecessors: these terrorists rely on their own means to plan, select targets and carry out attacks.
The “Lone Wolf in Morocco” web post describes the “new” terrorist: he operates under the radar to avoid raising suspicion and plans in complete secrecy because he trusts no one; he mixes with people in mosques and markets and uses public transport; he looks people in the eye without showing deception or threat.
The Lone Wolf also derides soldiers, Muslim policemen and Moroccan citizens who pray in mosques, calling them ignorant. As to targets, he mentions Western properties, symbols of the Moroccan state, security figures, and “producers of alcoholic drinks and festivals”. He said that his priorities were “mixed up in his mind”, so he decided to submit the matter to the jihadists and consult them before taking any further action.
On October 1st, Mourad A. was arrested. The judicial police (BNPJ) were certain they had their man: the “Lone Wolf in Morocco” author was a 21-year-old student in Islamic studies, prosecutors claimed. Ten days later, jihadist websites published a new letter by the “real” Lone Wolf in which he denied his capture.
“This operation is inspired by the bombing of the Argana Cafe in Marrakech,” said BNPJ chief Abdelhak Khiam.
The April 28th explosion at the popular café on Djemaa El Fna square killed 17 people, mainly European tourists. It was the worst attack in Morocco since the 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings, which left 33 people and 12 terrorists dead.
“The person who carried out that act performed on his own, without the knowledge of the other members of his cell,” the judicial police chief said. “He made the decision alone, prepared his bomb and detonated it without telling or involving anyone of the members of his cell in his terror plot.”
The Argana Café attack typifies the new trend in the work of Al-Qaeda, Khiam says.
Individual operations make it even more difficult to identify terror networks tied on the internet to terrorists around the world, he adds.
Brahim Fassi Fihri, president and co-founder of the Amadeus Institute, agrees that this new al-Qaeda strategy of encouraging solo operators complicates counter-terrorism efforts.
“The phenomenon of terrorism in Morocco is not linked to a centralised organisation, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and it does not report to a specific leadership that issues it with orders and directives,” he tells Magharebia. “All the cells that have been dismantled recently are characterised by autonomy, despite having pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda.”
Fassi Fihri adds, “We have people who are saturated with the jihadist ideology, whether through the Internet or via travel to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and they act as individuals, and they are mostly in sleeper cells.”
“Herein lies the difficulty of fighting terrorism. Do we arrest all of these people? This is not a solution.”
“The Argana attack in Marrakech came to remind us of the tragic images of terrorist bombings, which we almost forgot in Morocco, and to remind us that terrorism is a phenomenon that exists in our region,” Fassi Fihri says.
Another issue is the line between the fight against terrorism on the one hand and individual liberties on the other, given the Moroccan public’s call for greater freedoms.
“We are facing a new kind of terrorists, belonging to the middle classes of society,” Fassi Fihri continues. “The members of terrorist cells that have been dismantled recently in Morocco are people who come from a good educational and social background, unlike the 2003 suicide bombers, who came from miserable social environments in the suburb of Casablanca,” he tells Magharebia.
“This underscores the ideological nature of terrorism,” he says. “Poverty and social misery are not the only factors in spreading terrorism.”