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Morocco Under Fire

The coming "terrorism tsunami."

12:00 AM, Mar 30, 2007 • By OLIVIER GUITTA
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On March 11, three years to the day after the Madrid bombings, a cybercafe in Casablanca was hit. Two terrorists carrying explosive belts entered the cybercafe to surf the web. They were trying to connect to a terrorism-related site, and the manager wanted to prevent them from doing so. When he approached one of the two terrorists, the suicide bomber decided to activate his bomb, killing himself and injuring four. His accomplice fled but was later arrested by Moroccan police. The most credible explanation is that the two terrorists wanted to consult the website in order to receive their orders for an attack against some other target, most likely the police headquarters or some Western interests. But there's no doubt now: Morocco is under attack.

In their new book "Quand le Maroc sera islamiste" (When Morocco will be Islamist), journalists Nicolas Beau and Catherine Graciet paint a very bleak albeit realistic picture of the Kingdom. Indeed, one of the top French anti-terrorism officials, cited by Beau and Graciet, recently stated that Morocco is by far the most worrying country in North Africa. The official's comparison: "today, Morocco is 1916 Russia." Also, according to Spanish anti-terror judge Baltazar Garzon: "Morocco is the worst terrorist threat for Europe." He estimated that the al Qaeda-linked cells number more than 100 and that at least 1,000 terrorists are now being actively sought by Moroccan authorities.


In fact, Western intelligence agencies fear specific attacks on Western interests in the country. Some are even warning of a "terrorist tsunami." According to an article in the Algerian daily L'Expression, partially translated by The Croissant, the CIA recently beefed up its presence in Morocco and Algeria. Also, right before this latest incident, Moroccan authorities had closed in on an armed group that was preparing its own attack. The group was composed of 21 Algerians, eight of whom were subsequently arrested--the others are still on the run.

This Algerian connection should not be surprising since just a few months ago, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), an Algerian terrorist organization, renamed itself al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The ex-GSPC's new goal is to integrate all the Maghrebi radical movements, including the Moroccan GICM (Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group), which was responsible for the 2003 and 2004 attacks in Casablanca and Madrid.

Perhaps the most troublesome aspect of this latest "foiled" attack is that the suicide bomber had been jailed following the May 16, 2003, multiple suicide attacks in Casablanca. But King Mohamed VI pardoned him back in 2005. The same goes for most of those arrested in the last two weeks in connection to this latest attack. In light of this, pardoning might not be such a good idea in the fight against terrorism.


But overall, Morocco deserves a lot of credit for fighting the war on radical Islam.
Indeed, Moroccan authorities are not sitting idly and waiting for the next inevitable attack. On March 8, they arrested Saad Hussaini, GICM number two, in a Casablanca cybercafé while he was chatting with other jihadists.

Also, new tactics are being used. For the first time since the 2003 attacks, lists of sought after terrorists have been widely distributed and broadcast in the media, inviting the population "to help the security services to find where two particularly dangerous members of Al-Qaeda hide." Over the last weeks, multiple arrests have occurred, and the tension is more than palpable. In less than one week, at least two meetings took place between all the security services with the aim of adopting a new strategy that takes into account the growing regional threat posed by al Qaeda. Priority is given to the collection of information. Security agents have been focusing on watching new arrivals in the suburbs and new day laborers on construction sites--agents in plain clothes are mixing in with the crowds waiting in front of certain consulates. In Casablanca, some agents have even started to account for all the hardware stores (potential sources of explosives), the cybercafés, and the apartments occupied by single people in various areas of the city.
The security measures were particularly heightened in the areas of Tangier and Tétouan. Two experts in explosives would be, according to several news services, infiltrated into Morocco through the Tangier harbor. Various members of al Qaeda sleeper cells in Europe have also moved to the Maghreb since the merger of the GSPC and al Qaeda was announced. For a few days, all the cars entering or leaving Tangier have been systematically searched. Parking is from now on prohibited nearby the consulates and certain significant buildings in the city.