As Morocco repatriated 8 Moroccans involved in terrorism from war-torn Syria, the world questions how the country will deal with the ISIS returnees and other Islamic radicals.
Rabat – Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, has explored Morocco’s strategies in dealing with repatriated Islamic radicals and the “major concern” they pose for the country.
In his analysis, Berman emphasized Morocco’s dual approach to the problem of radical returnees: “Isolation and rehabilitation.”
Morocco is aware that imprisonment does not always solve problems, especially not ones related to Islamic radicals and their dangerous ideology.
Morocco’s restorative justice
For this, the country has sought to use restorative justice for terrorist offenders who can still be rehabilitated.
One example of the country’s new approach in criminal justice is the musalaha (reconciliation) program focusing on the rehabilitation of terrorist offenders, the participation of the victim and the reconciliation of both parties.
It is also a reconciliation with “the offender’s religion, Islam, and society as a whole,” said Berman.
In addition, Morocco has established a prison system that separates Islamic extremists from other “ordinary” criminals to prevent their radical ideologies from affecting other prisoners.
Between 16 and 17 prisons house terrorist prisoners. They are classified in three categories: Religious extremists, terrorist financiers, and those specialized in ideological mobilization.
Berman notes that prisoners who were involved in influencing and mobilizing people to adopt radical ideologies are the most dangerous of the three.
Moroccan prisons currently house 800 Islamic radicals.
“In this way, officials in Rabat hope to ‘quarantine’ extremists and stop their ideas from infecting those convicted of other crimes,” according to Berman.
More than 1,600 Moroccan jihadists
There are more than 1,600 Moroccan jihadists fighting with extremists in the conflict zones of Syria and Iraq, according to the 2017 estimates of the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior.
In 2015, Morocco officially made mobilization to join ISIS a crime under the counter-terrorism provisions of the Penal Code, announcing a new security service, the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ).
The country’s security bodies, the BCIJ, the General Directorate for National Security (DGSN), and the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DGST) all collaborate in fighting terrorism.
Ever since 2015, Morocco’s crackdown on terrorist cells and terrorist financiers has increased and strengthened both nationally and internationally. The country cooperates with international intelligence agencies, often assisting Spain in tracking terrorists of Moroccan origin radicalized abroad.
Whether Morocco’s approach succeeds in dealing with the threats of terrorism and jihad returnees remains to be seen.
Successes in the field of counter-terrorism, however, is a “valuable lesson for other regional countries that have the same problem,” Berman concludes.
Repatriation of 8 jihadists
On Sunday, March 10, Morocco repatriated, “on humanitarian grounds,” eight Moroccans involved in terrorism in Syria.
The decision was part of the Moroccan authorities’ contributions to international efforts to fight terrorism.
For its part, the US State Department expressed appreciation for Morocco’s decision, which it described as the “best solution to prevent” terrorists from returning to the battlefield.
“Morocco is a highly capable partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and we appreciate its commitment to countering terrorism,” the US Department stated.