Morocco prepares for return of IS fighters

With an estimated 1,500 Moroccan citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq, Rabat takes steps to prevent a repeat of the Algerian civil war following the return of the mujahedeen from Afghanistan in the 1990s.

al-monitor Two Islamist suspects arrive at the courtroom in Sale near Rabat, Jan. 26, 2007. Photo by REUTERS/Rafael Marchante.

Topics covered

terrorism, syria, sahel region, morocco, jihad, algeria

Sep 8, 2014

The Moroccan government has great concerns about the risks faced by the kingdom if the hundreds of Moroccans who joined the Islamic State (IS) return home. Moroccans take Algeria as an example because Algerian fighters who returned from Afghanistan in the late 1980s joined terrorist groups.

On Sept. 3 in Rabat, in front of a delegation which included members of the US Senate, including Virginia Sen. Timothy Michael Kaine, [Moroccan] Minister-Delegate for the Interior Charki Draiss said, "Morocco's location between Africa and Europe and its firm commitment to confront all forms of violence and extremism has made it a major player in ensuring regional balances and a key partner for the United States to search for solutions to face tensions in the Sahel region."

"In view of the increasing terrorist threats in the Sahel region, Morocco has adopted a comprehensive security approach based on bilateral cooperation and engaging in regional and international efforts to fight against terrorism," he said, adding, "This approach has been employed since 2002 through the dismantling of 124 terrorist cells and seizing a large arsenal of arms."

Commenting on the course of the meeting, Taj al-Din al-Husseini, a professor of international law, told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, "More than 1,500 Moroccans joined the ranks of IS in Iraq and Syria and more than 500 Moroccan immigrants living in Europe have also joined the jihadist organization."

He added, "The great risk lies in the fact that these Moroccans could return to their homeland, either directly or by joining terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa."

Husseini also talked about his experience during in Algeria in the 1990s. "The return of what was called the ‘Afghan mujahedeen’ to Algeria caused the outbreak of war in the country. Preventive measures remain the best way to circumvent a similar situation," he added.

He also said, "Preventive measures can only be taken through regional coordination between neighboring countries, particularly Algeria. The continued closure of the border between the two countries will not contribute to reaching the desired results, because the coordination processes require holding regular conferences to coordinate logistics to combat terrorism. This also requires opening the border between the two countries and security coordination with the countries of the Sahel region — especially Mali and Mauritania. This is in addition to participating in joint military training and operations."

Moreover, Husseini said, "Moroccan intelligence services at home and abroad have been taking serious steps in this regard, through coordination with European and American intelligence services, which is yielding positive results." He added that these efforts "are reflected in the ongoing operations to dismantle terrorist cells. More than 120 cells have been dismantled since 2002."

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