Morocco concerned about threat from extremist groups in the Sahel

Haboub Cherkaoui talks about the danger posed to his country's security by groups like Daesh that are constantly on the move
AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Miembros de las brigadas centrales de intervención marroquíes (BCI)

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Members of the Moroccan central intervention brigades (BCI)

The terrorist threat in the Sahel region is a major concern for much of the African continent. From Morocco, the head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, Haboub Cherkaoui, says that the recent inactivity in territories such as the Alawi does not mean that a danger has disappeared that, he says, represents Morocco's greatest military threat. Moreover, he says that his country's position "makes it a target for Sahelian groups", thanks to its good geopolitical situation. 

Since the creation of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations in 2015, dozens of militant cells have been dismantled, arresting just over 1,000 suspected jihadists. In addition, they have carried out a campaign to combat the radical message about faith, instilled by terrorist organisations and against which the office led by Cherkaoui has promoted a moderate view through local and regional training courses for imams. 

It is this situation that he believes should be a major headache, not only for Morocco, but for the international community as a whole. He says there are numerous groups that are waging a major campaign to attract more and more young people into their ranks, adding that "the terrorist threat persists as long as there are groups recruiting and training their followers online, including the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (ISGS)". The latest figures have the country led by King Mohammed VI up in arms. The growing presence of Daesh in Syria and Iraq over the past decade has led to an increase in extremist activity which, despite its defeat, persists in the region. 

Haboub Cherkaoui stressed in an interview with Reuters news agency that the self-styled Islamic State continues to be active. What it has done, he says, is to move around the territory looking for weaknesses in the Sahel countries. Teaming up with other extremist groups to take advantage of porous borders and trafficking networks has become a priority target for these organisations. Indeed, both Mali and Niger have suffered a continuous battle against extremists, who at the same time have used Libya's civil war to create a space for jihadist groups to operate. 

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Un miembro del servicio de seguridad antiterrorista de Marruecos ante la sede del Buró Central de Investigaciones Judiciales, en una foto de archivo.
AFP/FADEL SENNA  -  A member of Morocco's anti-terrorist security service in front of the headquarters of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, in a file photo.

Already at the end of February, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani took part in a Sahel security summit in N'Djamena. He offered his help in actively combating the jihadist threat, even advocating the training of troops. One of the aspects that also worries the Moroccan government is the entry of some Moroccan nationals into the terrorist organisation, and that they are the ones who have moved from the Middle East to positions closer to the Alawi border. 

According to data provided by the head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, 1,645 Moroccans joined jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, including 745 who died in suicide attacks or in battle. The vast majority of the 1,645 fought for Daesh. Of the 407 who managed to survive, 270 have returned to Morocco and 137 were prosecuted - Moroccan law punishes those who join extremist groups abroad with up to 10 years. He added that up to 288 women and 391 minors were also taken to the conflict zones. 

Morocco hopes to be able to count on European and American help to combat the terrorist threat. The assistance they provided through their intelligence service was key and helped arrest numerous jihadists and foil attacks in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany and, recently, the United States. They now look to those same countries to help them deal with the extremist threat because, Cherkaoui said: "Our success depends on the continuous exchange of intelligence with our partners.