Al-Qaeda has been seeking since 2002 to set up terrorist cells in Morocco, in order to undermine the country’s stability and hit Western targets. In the summer of 2002, dormant cells that were plotting to attack ships in the Strait of Gibraltar were discovered.
Upon their return to Morocco from “jihad” against the Soviets, Afghan Moroccans supervised the transfer of military and technical expertise in making explosives; and attracted and trained new recruits to carry out terror attacks inside and outside the Kingdom. All the dismantled cells were under the supervision of individuals who previously visited Afghanistan; these people absorbed atonement doctrines and acquired bombing expertise from al-Qaeda camps.
Al-Qaeda dispatched individuals from other nationalities (French, Syrian, Yemeni, Palestinian, Belgian, etc.), who have expertise in making explosives, in order to set up a branch in Morocco, as a rear base for all operations targeting the region. The latter is characterized by its proximity to Europe, and its openness to the Sahara and the Sahel region that covers an area of eight million square kilometers.
Al-Qaeda is particularly attracted by the region’s internal and inter-State conflicts, as is the case between Morocco and Algeria. These conditions enable terrorist groups to move freely and expand the scope of their activities to include drugs, and hostage-taking that provided al-Qaeda’s branch in the Islamic Maghreb with 50 million euros within a few years.
Dismantling the Amgala cell confirms the determination of al-Qaeda to penetrate the Moroccan territory by exploiting the dispute over the Sahara and the blocked horizons for Polisario members, whom the organization recruits to carry out its subversion operations. The increasing interest of al-Qaeda in Morocco is illustrated by the number of cells that have been dismantled since May 16, 2003, amounting to 80. The pace of dismantling cells has accelerated from a cell every five months, to one every two weeks.
The danger of the cells, the nature of their plots and the quality of seized weapons confirm the increasing threat of al-Qaeda on Morocco. For instance, the Amgala cell possessed a very dangerous arsenal of weapons, consisting of 30 Kalashnikov rifles and 1998 munitions for them, three machine guns, two long-range bombers, anti-tank launchers and topographic equipment including maps of the Moroccan-Algerian borders.
These weapons are enough to equip a small army or dozens of cells, which is what al-Qaeda was plotting by attracting and recruiting fugitives, like Mohamed Mohim who escaped from the central prison of Kenitra in 2008, or members of the Jihadi Salafi Trend.
It’s easy to attract individuals adhering to the takfiri trend, given their predisposition to carry out terror attacks. Facing this grave threat that endangers Morocco’s security and stability requires the involvement of citizens in the counter-terrorism fight and their cooperation with the security bodies, both by reporting suspicious individuals and hunting them down. The citizens’ involvement in the fight against terrorism proved effective in a number of incidents, like the arrest of the perpetrators of the criminal attack against the Atlas Asni hotel in Marrakech in 1994.
The same happened with the suicide bomber Abdelfattah Raydi, who raised the suspicions of the cybercafé owner he was visiting after accessing “Jihadi” websites. Raydi blew himself up on March 11, 2007, before the cybercafé owner could contact the police; but the security forces arrested the second bomber who was wounded in the face.
The citizens played a major role as well in tracking and cornering two suicide bombers on April 10, 2007 in Casablanca. Terrorists who escaped from Kenitra’s prison confessed after their arrest that they did not encounter any problems with the “Makhzen”, represented by the security forces, gendarmerie and auxiliary forces, as it was hard to recognize these terrorists after they shaved their beards and hid their physical traits; however, they had real problems with their families and acquaintances who refused to accommodate them as fugitives.
Security services could actually arrest fugitive terrorists thanks to the assistance of the families and relatives of the latter, who provided useful information for locating the hiding places of the fugitives. The community’s rejection of terrorism and citizens’ cooperation with security forces, both in terms of reporting and chasing terrorists, guarantees the success of the State in fighting terrorism.
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