By Mawassi Lahcen
By Mawassi Lahcen
Casablanca, June 9, 2012
Morocco recently dismantled a terror cell dating back to the 1970s, raising spectres from the past for victims and families, and reopening a debate on the country’s painful history with extremism.
After Judicial Police (BNJP) arrested at least 15 alleged members of the Harakat al-Mujahedeen al-Maghrabia (“Mujahadeen Movement in Morocco“) on May 5th, investigators found weapons stockpiled on farms near Tiflet and Sebaâ Ayoun.
The arms arsenals are believed to have been hidden by members of the cell after the 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings that killed more than 40 people.
The group’s origins date back to 1972 with Shabiba al-Islamiya (Islamic Youth), the first organised Islamist political movement in the kingdom. Three years later, Abdelaziz Noumani set up its military wing, the Moroccan Mujahideen Movement.
The group was linked to the 1994 slaying of two Spanish tourists at the Atlas-Asni Hotel in Marrakech.
One of the movement’s early leaders, Mohamed Nekkaoui, was later sentenced to life in prison following the Casablanca terror attacks.
“Before the 2003 bombings, people were just inattentive,” Said El Kihel, a Moroccan researcher specialised in Islamic groups, told Magharebia. “Moroccans didn’t feel the danger of infiltration by religious extremists and proponents of terrorist, takfirist ideology in society,” he said.
“Things changed following the horrible bombings in which innocent citizens were killed, and today those people are regarded with extreme caution,” El Kihel said.
Morocco had just emerged from the “Years of Lead” and long-entrenched mistrust between the state and society. Things changed after Moroccans experienced first-hand the heinousness of terrorist acts. After that, society supported the state in its war on terrorism.
Citizens began tipping off security forces about terrorists and their hideouts, he said.
“Moroccans have realised the danger of those people. This has so far enabled the Moroccan security agencies to succeed in their pre-emptive strikes against the terrorist cells, dismantling about 100 terrorist cells since the 2003 bombings and sparing society their evil,” El Kilel said.
In Casablanca, residents of La Gironde neighbourhood, Hay El Miaara, Hay El Farah, Hay Sidi Moumen, La Concorde and FAR Ave still have bad memories of the 2003 and 2007 terrorist bombings that took place in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007.
The sounds of bombings, the smell of charred flesh, the sight of torn-up stomachs scattered on sidewalks, panic and fear among residents are still remembered. The big question on their minds is still: why and for what purpose? These neighbourhoods are only inhabited by Muslim Moroccans, and most victims of the bombings were peaceful Muslim Moroccans who hailed from modest classes in society.
In one of the suicide bombings, at the Jewish cemetery, the terrorist blew himself up near the only water fountain that supplied most poor families in the neighbourhood. The victims of the blast: a young man struggling against poverty by selling cigarettes and a small child drinking from the fountain.
Cheikh Mohamed Fizazi, one of Salafist Jihadist sheikhs released under a royal pardon on April 14th, 2011, described these events as “pure crimes”. He told Magharebia that “these operations have nothing to do with religion or jihad”.
“The suicide bombers are only deceived victims brainwashed by people who took advantage of social precariousness, poverty, deprivation, illiteracy, ignorance, and the real religious vacuum in which hose young people lived, in order to use them as human bombs and realise criminal goals,” the cheikh said.
“In my opinion, if those young people had been brought up based on real religion and real Islamic values, and if they had found correct training, from sports and education, the terrorists wouldn’t have been able to recruit them and turn them into human bombs,” Cheikh Fizazi added.
After the 2003 bombings, there were major fears that Morocco’s march towards democracy and freedom would be derailed. This never materialised, researcher and analyst El Kihel said.
“Even after the Argana Café bombing last spring, Morocco continued its reforms by drafting a new constitution and holding fair elections,” he said.
Morocco’s counterterrorism approach has also evolved over the last 10 years.
“After the 2003 bombings, the state adopted a strict security approach in countering the terrorist threat,” the analyst said. “However, it soon launched a comprehensive, multi-dimensional approach, including social, political, educational and religious elements.”
The state’s plan includes the training ofmorchidates (religious female guides), imams and mosque khatibs to bar the road to proponents of radical ideology. It has also tightened controls on imported religious books and tapes, and reviewed Islamic education curricula for lessons that still talk about jihad and takfir in ways used by extremists.
These lessons have been replaced with others calling for the rejection of violence and extremism. It has also introduced philosophy at secondary schools, to help stimulate critical thinking among students.
A specialised television channel and a radio station were also launched to spread moderation.
At the social level, the state has launched programmes to improve citizens’ living conditions and relocate shantytown residents. The government began offering direct financial support to poor families, to encourage them to send their children to school.
Measures such as these to improve the overall environment in poor areas aim to prevent the kind of horror that Badr Ashuri’s relatives have endured.
Families have had their lives turned upside down as a result of their sons’ involvement in terrorist networks. The relatives of Badr Ashuri, a young man executed in Iraq last October, have lived through a series of catastrophic shocks.
The family was reassured about their son when he left home in 2006 to work in Spain. He was 24 years old and dreaming about achieving a better life through work and perseverance. However, less than one year after his departure, his family was shocked to discover that he had travelled to Iraq.
Although he tried to reassure his family that he was working, the unstable security situation in Iraq left them worried about his welfare.
“The news about his arrest and accusations of his affiliation to a jihadist network in Iraq came as a shock to all the family,” his brother Amin told Magharebia. “We were stunned, especially when we knew that he was sentenced to death.”
On October 26th, 2011, Badr phoned his family from Iraq. He told them that he had been visited by officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and that there were hopes about a breakthrough in his situation.
The family was optimistic and waited for an end to their calamity. Just one week later, the family learned that Badr had been put to death the day after his phone call.
“Mother didn’t believe that he was executed, and her only hope became to recover the remains of her son and see his face for the last time before he was buried,” Amin added.
Badr’s relatives were not the only Moroccans shocked with the news about his execution. Many other families have sons who are now in Iraqi prisons because they were recruited by jihadist networks. Mothers can no longer sleep, and each time they hear someone knocking on the door, they tremble with fear of hearing tragic news.
As to the families whose loved ones were killed in terrorist operations, many refuse to talk about their ordeal. The bitterness on their faces says it all.