Abdelhak El Khiame estimates 1,668 Moroccans joined ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and Moroccan intelligence have detailed files on each one.
Rabat – A projected wave of Morocco-bound ISIS elements has alarmed Morocco’s security experts, and the country is preparing to counter and neutralize possible dangers from former Moroccan ISIS fighters.
In its December 31 edition, Casablanca-based Al Ahdath Al Maghribia newspaper said that the prospect of ISIS fighters returning is a central element of the mounting fear in Morocco.
Following heavy defeats earlier this year, the radicalized group has been forced out of its Iraqi and Syrian territories, and a number of its fighters are expected to return to their respective countries.
Citing Moroccan officials, the newspaper indicated that the majority of Moroccans who joined ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Libya are set to return.
Al Ahdath Al Maghribia’s warnings were borne out by a recent report from the European Counterterrorism Center (ECTC). The report highlights the security danger of former ISIS fighters upon return in their origin countries.
In addition to their own “enhanced capability to commit acts of terrorism,” returnees “also serve as role models and might be involved in radicalizing others,” the report noted.
Speaking of the possible negative repercussions of ISIS’ recent defeat, ECTC’s report added: “As IS gets weaker, it has been urging its followers to carry out lone actor type attacks in their home countries, rather than guiding them to attempt to travel to the so-called caliphate.”
While Morocco’s anti-terrorism authorities have been almost 100 percent effective in minimizing the threats posed by former ISIS returnees, the ECTC report estimates that the next wave of returnees will pose a more lethal danger to security both in Morocco and Europe.
Having lost its Syrian and Iraqi strongholds, its self-styled caliphate, ISIS is seeking less traditional ways of inflicting “defeat” on governments, according to the report.
While not giving in to the frenzy surrounding the prospective return of former ISIS combatants, Moroccan authorities appeared to have heeded the warnings.
Speaking last week as Morocco arrested more suspects in the Imlil murders, Abdelhak El Khiame, the head of Morocco’s Central Bureau of Judicial Intelligence (BCIJ), said, “Every ISIS returnee who sets foot in Morocco will be arrested, questioned, and sent to the courts.”
Appearing to reassure Moroccans by playing down returnees’ ability to strike the country, the BCIJ chief gave figures that reaffirmed his team’s success in similar operations in the past.
BCIJ operatives arrested 71 ISIS returnees between 2015 and 2016, El Khiame said. The majority of the 71 arrested returnees had come from combat zones in Syria and Iraq and were planning to strike a number of major Moroccan cities.
He said 1,668 Moroccans are estimated to have joined ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and Moroccan intelligence have detailed files on each one.
Recently named among the world’s safest places, Morocco has traditionally been immune to the scourge of both domestic and foreign-organized terrorist strikes. Prior to the Imlil tragedy which claimed the lives of two Scandinavian tourists, Morocco’s last terrorist incident dated to 2011.
While the country’s counter-terrorism system has won plaudits in security circles worldwide, the new threats elicit an updated approach, experts have warned.