Overview: The United States and Morocco have a long history of strong counterterrorism cooperation. The Government of Morocco continued to implement its comprehensive strategy, which includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation, and terrorist counter-radicalization policies. In 2020, Morocco’s counterterrorism efforts largely mitigated its risk of terrorism — even as the numbers of arrests dropped significantly compared with 2019, likely because of COVID-19-related shutdowns. The country continued to face sporadic threats — largely from small, independent terrorist cells — most of which were claimed to be inspired by or affiliated with ISIS. Morocco is also a member of the GCTF and is currently the co-chair of the GCTF with Canada.
2020 Terrorist Incidents: There were no reported terrorist incidents in Morocco in 2020.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Morocco is still investigating, prosecuting, and sentencing defendants under its CT legislation, enacted in 2003 and expanded in 2015, to implement UNSCR 2178.
In 2020, Moroccan law enforcement under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior aggressively targeted and arrested at least 35 individuals, effectively dismantling seven terrorist cells reportedly in the early stages of planning attacks against a range of targets, including public buildings, prominent figures, and tourist sites. No major arrests took place between March 20 and June 20, when Morocco enforced a near-total lockdown, severely restricting movements in response to COVID-19. Moroccan law enforcement leveraged intelligence collection, police work, and collaboration with international partners to conduct counterterrorism operations.
The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) remains the primary law enforcement agency responsible for counterterrorism prosecutions. The BCIJ reports to the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance and operates under the supervision of the public prosecutor of the Court of Appeals.
Notable arrests in 2020 include the following:
- In early March the BCIJ dismantled a cell of four men near Rabat led by an individual previously arrested on terrorism charges in 2014. The authorities seized electronic devices, bladed weapons, and ISIS propaganda.
- In July, Moroccan authorities dismantled an alleged ISIS cell of four men in Nador, who were planning to attack “sensitive targets” in Morocco.
- In September, Moroccan security officials carried out synchronized counterterrorism operations in four cities across Morocco (Skhirat, Tangier, Temara, and Tiflet), leading to the arrest of five individuals suspected of having links to ISIS. According to media reports, the Moroccan authorities reportedly seized numerous weapons and chemicals, including explosive belts, detonators, teargas canisters, and pressure cookers. The BCIJ director claimed this cell was one of the most dangerous that Morocco had ever dismantled. The ringleader, previously arrested on terrorism charges, subsequently killed a Moroccan prison guard in October.
Moroccan law enforcement agencies participated in a wide range of U.S.-sponsored programs to improve the country’s counterterrorism technical and investigative capabilities, including financial investigation, intelligence analysis, and cybersecurity.
Border security remained a top priority for Moroccan authorities. The General Directorate for National Security has primary responsibility for conducting border inspections at ports of entry such as Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport. Law enforcement officials and private airline carriers worked regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally and to address watchlisted travelers. Moroccan airport authorities have excellent capabilities in detecting fraudulent documents. In addition, police, customs officers, and the Royal Gendarmerie operated mobile and fixed checkpoints along the roads in border areas and at the entrances to major municipalities. Moroccan naval and coast guard units monitored and patrolled Morocco’s extensive coastal waters, including the Strait of Gibraltar, to interdict illicit traffickers.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Morocco is a member of MENAFATF. Its FIU, L’Unité de Traitement du Renseignement Financier, is a member of the Egmont Group. Morocco is also a member of the Defeat-ISIS CIFG.
In 2020, Morocco worked to enact reforms in response to its 2019 Mutual Evaluation Report, with legislation pending. In March, Morocco hosted the Warsaw Process Working Group on Counterterrorism and Illicit Financing, focused on countering al-Qa’ida.
Countering Violent Extremism: Morocco has a comprehensive CVE strategy that prioritizes economic and human development in addition to countering terrorist/violent extremist radicalization and oversight of the religious sphere. To counter what it views as religious extremism, Morocco promotes an interpretation of the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs has developed an educational curriculum for Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams as well as for female guides (les mourchidates). Morocco’s imam training center in Rabat trains imams mostly from West Africa. The Royal Mohammedan League of Ulema (Rabita Mohammedia) counters radicalization to violence by producing scholarly research, reviewing educational curricula, and conducting youth outreach on religious and social topics.
The Department of State has supported the General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration’s (DGAPR’s) efforts to modernize prison management, develop prisoner classification tools, and construct more secure facilities. The DGAPR, in cooperation with other ministries, has conducted six offerings of its deradicalization program, Moussalaha (Reconciliation), and opened the program to female prisoners in 2020.
International and Regional Cooperation: Morocco is currently a co-chair of the GCTF with Canada, is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, and is a member of the AU and the OIC. A major non-NATO ally, Morocco traditionally hosts the annual African Lion exercise, but the exercise was canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19. In 2020, Morocco announced plans to establish a United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) Program Office for Specialized Counter-Terrorism and Law Enforcement Training in Africa. Morocco also participated in national-level workshops hosted by UNODC’s Terrorism Prevention Branch on implementation of UNSCR 2396 on detecting and preventing terrorist travel. The nation also has strong cooperation with European countries, especially Belgium, France, and Spain, to thwart potential terrorist threats in Europe. Regional tensions between Morocco and Algeria continued to impede bilateral and regional counterterrorism cooperation.