Ali Aarass sparked uproar among other former convicted terrorists, who were in shock due to his denial despite his direct involvement in the radical Al Mujahidin movement.
Rabat – Ex-convicted terrorists continue to counter allegations that Ali Aarass, one of the former members of the radical Al Mujahidin movement, has been spreading against Morocco’s security institutions.
Ali Aarass, a Belgian-Moroccan former terrorist convict and one of the founding members of the terror organization “Mujahidin movement,” intensified his presence on social networks, attacking Morocco and accusing police and prison authorities of totrure and mistreatment of inmates.
Aarass, who describes himself as an activist, has appeared in several videos to complain about “suffering torture” during his arrest and imprisonment in Morocco.
In 2012, the former convict received a sentence of 12 years in prison for several charges, including affiliation to a terror organization and for plotting to train Moroccan militants.
He claimed he signed confessions under torture.
The claims have prompted a group of former members of the Mujahidin movement to react and strongly deny all his allegations. The group is casting serious doubt on Aarass’ narrative by citing what he used to tell them during their series of militant activities and meetings.
Mohamed Benchouchen, an ex-convicted terrorist formerly affiliated with the Al Mujahidin movement, is the latest to appear in a video to condemn Aarass’ denial of his affiliation to the group and terror-related activities.
Benchouchen, who was born in 1955, said he joined the extremist movement in Morocco in 1981.
“I was very active within the movement. We traveled across the world, including to Lebanon, when we underwent weapons training in Beirut.”
Benchouchen said he and other members of the movement traveled secretly to Morocco through Melilla.
The former convict admitted that in 2001 he and other members also underwent weapons training in Morocco, specifically in Tafoughalt, a town in the Berkane province in the Oriental region.
Like several other members of the movement, Benchouchen said that Ali Aarass was supplying Mujahidin’s militants with weapons.
“All the weapons that Morocco’s authorities seized during our arrest was provided to us by Ali Aarass,” he said.
The former terror convict said his last meeting with Aarass was in 2004 in Sale, near Rabat.
During their meeting, he said, Aarass offered to provide other weapons, a proposal that he and another member of the Mujahidin movement declined.
Appearing to deeply regret their former lives, Benchachoun and Abderrazak Soumah, another member of the movement, called on all Moroccans to abandon extremist ideas.
“Keep your mind clear from the influence of people who know nothing of what they preach,” Benchachoun warned.
Fellow ex-convicts say no torture during arrest
At one point in his video, Benchouchen responded to Ali Aaraas’ continued torture allegations, saying that his former friend’s only motivation is to tarnish the reputation of Moroccan institutions, especially the police.
In addition to denying his involvement with the movement and its terror activities, Aarass appeared in several videos saying that Moroccan police physically assaulted him during his arrest.
Despite many of his former “Mujahidin movement” fellows debunking his “lies” and attesting to his direct involvement in most of the movement’s high-profile terror activities, Aarass remains adamant that he was forced to sign a confession.
Benchouchen acknowledged that he had been hearing a “lot” about torture in Moroccan prisons.
“We’d heard rumors and torture and ill treatment… but none of them were true. I served my time [in prison] and I was neither ill-treated nor tortured even during my interrogation.”
Benchouchen and Soumah concluded their video by calling on Ali Aaarass to admit what he has done.
“One should be able to admit to wrongdoing. Have some courage! If you did it you did it,” Soumah said.
Meanwhile, Soumah emphasized Aarass’ role in the movement and denied any torture and ill-treatment during his arrest for his involvement in terror activities.
Soumah also accused Aarass of supplying the members of the movement with weapons.
“He was the logistics and finances manager of the movement,” Soumah said in March.
Aarass has military knowledge since he served in the army in Belgium.
Aarass continues to deny his involvement in the movement and has launched an online campaign against Moroccan institutions.
In his most recent video, Aarass expressed support for Moroccan journalists Omar Radi and Souleiman Raissouni.
Radi is facing charges of “rape and for receiving fund from a foreign agent,” while Raissouni is in prison for alleged sexual assault against a homosexual man.
NGOs and human rights activists have been calling for the immediate release of the two journalists. Some of the activists have linked their arrest with their journalistic work and criticism against the government.
But many Moroccans have questioned the legitimacy of Aarass as a human rights spokesperson. Given his history of terror plots against his country, he should be the last person to speak about preserving human rights, critics have argued.
Others also accused him of serving foreign agendas. Soumah and Benchouchen called on Aarass to revoke all his claims against Morocco and admit his responsibility and mistakes.
“My advice to you, Mister Ali Aarass is to find your way back to Allah. We’ve all made mistakes. There’s no shame in admitting mistakes, we all know it and our country knows and respects it,” Soumah said.
In addition to urging Ali Aarass to admit his mistakes, Soumah warned him against making his past errors “worse through lies and deceit to pass yourself off as a human rights defender.”
Soumah hinted that Ali Aarass is serving a foreign agenda to tarnish Morocco’s reputation.
“They’re only using you, the enemies of our country. Don’t let yourself be a pawn in their hands, that’s my advice to you,” he concluded, asking whose agenda Aarass is serving.
Morocco denies, condemns Aarass’ allegations
Morocco has denied all of Ali Aarass’ allegations.
In March, the Moroccan embassy Belgium issued a statement in Arabic, Dutch, and French, to react to — and deny — similar allegations that were making the rounds on social media.
The statement accused Aarass of creating a “diversion” where there was proof showing him involved in plotting terror attacks against Morocco.
“He victimizes himself, while his allegations of torture have been dismanteled by courts,” the embassy said.
The embassy said Aarass’ goal is to “clear up” his terrorism record.
“As a former soldier in the Belgian army, he has to put his military know-how at the service of the disastrous plans of his movement,” the embassy argued.
Morocco’s anti-terrorism approach
“Terrorism has no nationality” is Morocco’s government motto in its quest to identify terrorism. The approach stresses accountability against anyone guilty of terrorism, regardless of the person’s religion, nationality, or ethnicity.
Morocco’s approach against terrorism has consistently earned recognition in different reports, including from the US State Departement.
In a June 2020 report, the US State Department said Morocco’s counterterrorism strategy helps mitigate the risk of terrorism in the whole MENA region.
According to the report, Morocco continues to face “sporadic” terror threats from independent ISIS-inspired cells.
Morocco has dismantled over 2,009 terror cells since 2002. Security services, including the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) and police, arrested 3,535 people for their alleged involvement in terror activities during the same period.
During security operations, Morocco’s services also aborted around 500 “bloody” terror plots in recent years, BCIJ announced recently.
Morocco jointly works with international security services against terrorism. Recently, Morocco’s intelligence provided France with essential data, informing it of a terror plot against a church.
The intelligence tip helped France foil a bloodbath planned by a Moroccan-French woman.
Earlier this year, Morocco also provided the US with data regarding the involvement of an American soldier with ISIS.
In addition to the US and France, Morocco also works with Belgium against terrorism.
In 2018, France, Spain, Belgium announced a decision to form a joint antiterrorism unit to upgrade terrorism prevention and alleviate the threats of radicalization.