How Morocco is Helping to Counter Terrorism in Europe

*** Note from the editor: this is an edited article, originally written  by Hannah Wallace for Arab Millennial***

Intelligence services in Morocco are playing a key role in Europe’s efforts to counter ISIS terrorism. Despite a sharp increase in the number of terrorist attacks in the Maghreb region between 2011 and 2014, Morocco has remained largely immune. Despite the region being a hotbed of instability and violence, only one attack occurred in Morocco in April 2011 .

Since 2002, Morocco’s intelligence services have helped to prevent 341 terrorist attacks and dismantled 167 terrorist cells. Success of Morocco’s intelligence services has not been limited to preventing attacks within its own borders but includes assisting counterterrorism operations of European countries’. Due to the increased threat from terrorism in recent years, as well as the cross-border nature of the threat, European countries have increasingly turned to Morocco for assistance. As a result, the North African nation has become a key player in the global fight against terrorism.

Closer intelligence cooperation has proved effective in identifying terrorist cells and thwarting potential attacks. Moroccan security services have been extremely proactive and efficient in sharing information on suspected jihadists and in tracing the perpetrators of attacks.

Moroccan intelligence provided crucial information that led to the localisation of the suspected ringleader in the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. While French authorities had been tapping the phone of a Moroccan born national, Hasna Aït Boulahcen, as part of a drug investigation, they were unaware that Boulahcen was the cousin of Abaaoud, a fact that would only become known through the involvement of Moroccan intelligence services. Following his capture, French President Francois Hollande publicly thanked the King of Morocco for the vital information provided in the hunt for Abaaoud.

Alongside a powerful intelligence agency, the national police force and paramilitary police, the country created the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (Morocco’s version of the FBI). The involvement of second and third generation Moroccan nationals in major terror attacks in Spain, Paris and Brussels has contributed to increased surveillance measures in European countries. Responding to this threat, Abdelhak Khiame, head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, announced that the Moroccan government was working on a plan to monitor and track radicalised Moroccan born individuals in European countries.

This will involve establishing offices in partner countries, further deepening existing collaboration with Europe. According to Issandr El Amrani, North Africa project director at the International Crisis Group, the large Moroccan diaspora in European countries means that ‘Moroccan intelligence services are more successful in infiltrating these communities than Western services’.

In part due to its proximity to Morocco and its two enclaves in Moroccan territory, Spain has benefited from a closer partnership with Morocco on counterterrorism. Moroccan and Spanish intelligence services have led a series of joint operations to dismantle international terrorist cells and arrest jihadists prior to possible attacks. A joint Spanish-Moroccan operation in 2014 resulted in the arrest of 9 suspected jihadists linked to ISIS and other extremist organisations.

In 2017, Spanish interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido described Morocco as ‘Spain’s best partner’ in the fight against global terrorism. In a statement to the Spanish news agency EFE, Juan Ignacio Zoido said that ‘Morocco had helped Spain arrest 178 dangerous individuals and cooperated in the dismantlement of 10 terrorist cells.’

Despite these successes, not all of the intelligence shared by the Moroccan security services has been acted upon by Morocco’s European allies. In 2015, the Moroccan government revealed that it had twice warned Germany’s federal intelligence service (the BND) about the risk posed by ethnic Tunisian Anis Amri, who went on to kill 12 civilians in a terrorist attack at a Christmas market in Berlin.

Amri’s extremist leanings were cited, including an alleged meeting between Amri and two followers of ISIS described as “dangerous”. Moroccan officials also allegedly named some of his contacts, but apparently none of them were in Germany.

Featured image | Arab spring map | wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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