Rabat – Amidst widening security and social concerns over the return of ISIS and other terrorist network-affiliated Moroccan nationals, Moroccan authorities are confident about the country’s preparedness to prevent future events of the magnitude of the 2003 Casablanca and 2011 Marrakesh bombings.
Since the April 2011 Marrakesh terror strike, Morocco’s modernized and upgraded security system has established the kingdom as a bulwark against radicalization and organized crime, BCIJ (Central Bureau of Judiciary Investigations) director, Abdelhak Khiame, told French magazine Valeurs Actuelles in an interview published on June 14. The success of Morocco’s anti-terrorist model, Khiame elaborated, lies in an “anticipatory philosophy” that deals with terrorism at its very core.
Despite separatist grievances in the south and some recent—though sporadic—political upheavals, the North African country still carries its so-called “exceptionalité Marocaine” (Moroccan exception) reputation: a bastion of security and peace in a troubled neighborhood.
Although the idea of the Moroccan exception is also said to entail Morocco as a cultural bridge, home to striking social-cultural diversities, the notion has been slightly altered in recent years. The shift has placed a particular emphasis on the country’s brand of tolerant and difference-accommodating Islam, as a factor of stability and social cohesion during and after the events of the Arab Spring.
But how did this come about? How, after being shaken to its core by the terrorist strikes in 2003 and 2011, has Morocco managed to establish itself as an inspiration for other nations fighting against terrorism and radical ideologies? Why is the Moroccan anti-terrorism experience an example worth emulating?
The BCJI director claimed that Morocco did not just want to fight terrorism after the 2011 strikes; the country also had “to deconstruct radicalization” in order to both limit the appeal of ideology-linked violence but also identify those most susceptible to fall prey to it.
“Although it is premature to claim victory now, radicalization has drastically declined in Morocco in recent months,” he said, explaining that there now is an established network of government-sponsored experts who identify and intervene in “high risk areas.” The experts include sociologists, psychologists, Islamic law specialists, and Ulemmas (Islamic scholars) who cooperate to promote a version of moderate and tolerant Islam.
“These experts also intervene in prisons to persuade terrorists to review their ideas on the meaning of jihad,” Khiame further said, hinting at another successful feature of Morocco’s robust anti-terrorism model: deradicalization. Successfully de-radicalized former terrorists are also sometimes relied upon to participate in awareness-raising campaigns in “fragile and vulnerable places.”
The effective coupling of theological re-orientation and security reforms has thus been a crucial ingredient of Morocco’s anti-terrorist apparatus.
Investing in state-sponsored Islam
On the religious front, the Rabita Mohammedia of Oulemas (Mohammedia House of Scholars) is leading a strenuous battle against radical and monolithic interpretations of the Quran and Islamic tenets. With more than 30 online platforms at its disposal, it disseminates books, video recordings, cassettes, and even animes whose main objective is to prevent the proliferation of radical Islamism.
The body is made of experts from various academic backgrounds committed to “de-coding and deconstructing religious radicalism.” They first identify the ideological terrains that terrorist are most likely to exploit—Arab Unity, religious binarisms (Islamic world vs. others), name-calling piety, etc.
Once they identify the rhetoric and vulnerable populations most susceptible to such appeals, they then devise a counter-rhetoric designed to “immunize” fragile populations not priorly exposed to radical rhetoric, in addition to “de-radicalizing” those with previous exposure to “simplistic pan-Islamist narratives.”
“There are no self-proclaimed imams in Morocco. That is illegal,” other governmental sources told Valeurs Actuelles, as they further explained that everything is done to ensure that the country’s 45,000 practicing imams uphold and echo the pluralist core of Morocco’s official Islam in their Friday sermons. “Mosques that deviate are rapidly identified, and steep punishment follows.”
A new generation of imams
Equally crucial on the ideological and religious front is Morocco’s tutelage of a new generation of imams, trained both in traditional theological sciences and “modern” courses in social sciences and the humanities. At the Mohamed VI institute for Imams, courses include sociology, philosophy, psychology, communication sciences, etc., and imams are instructed to value debates and critical thinking.
Since its inception in 2006, the institute has attracted candidates from other African countries, due to the Moroccan government’s extension of scholarships to candidates from countries like Guinea, Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. Scholarships include everything, from on-site accommodations, free courses, and pocket money. “This is to prevent external influences,” said a religious instructor, well aware of the financial factor in feeding the ranks of radical Islamism.
The success of the institute has also attracted the attention of some non-African governments, with France agreeing to a partnership in 2015. France now sends on a yearly basis dozens of Imam Students to be trained in the Moroccan tradition of Islam. This year, for example, the Institute hosted 50 French nationals, of whom 10 were girls. Of the inclusion of female students in the Institute’s program, one instructor said: “It is the best way to show our openness and effectively fight against extremists who are annoyed by such a model.”
Modernized anti-terrorist units
To supplement the ideological success of its anti-terrorism, Morocco has also heavily invested in its intelligence and elite police units, creating sophisticated networks of cooperation and intelligence sharing between the country’s top anti-terrorist specialized units.
The BCIJ, the perfect embodiment of Morocco’s specialized anti-terrorist units, has often been described as the “Moroccan FBI,” an indication of the body’s high standards and commendable achievements in dealing with terrorist threats. It a special police made up of 400 detectives and 700 field agents, highly trained and equipped to root out the various forms of domestic and transnational terrorism.
The BCIJ works in collaboration with other sub-departments and security sub-divisions under the commands of the Interior Ministry, therefore creating a vast interconnected and independent hierarchy of anti-terrorist units. BCIJ operatives have neutralized 815 terrorist since 2015, in addition to dismantling 53 terrorist cells from 2015 to April 2018.
“We anticipate terrorist strikes,” said BCIJ director Khiame, adding: “We receive intelligence from all agencies working under DGST (General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance). All tasks are divided and this gives us ample time to gather intelligence and intervene in time to stop potential terrorists.”