August 7, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, takes a look at increasing challenge that Islamist extremists pose to Morocco, a country he describes as enjoying “a well-deserved reputation as an oasis of moderation and relative tranquility amid the whirl of religious extremism and violence that passes for politics in most of the Muslim world, especially its Arab lands.”

Dr. Pham notes that what worries “counterterrorism officials, both in Morocco and elsewhere, is the significant risk that the country’s terrorists are linking up with Islamist extremists in other countries as well as the increasing drug trade—primarily locally produced hashish and South American cocaine—which transits to Europe through Morocco and other North African countries.” The concern is “is not only that extremists may finance their activities through the drug trade, but that the well-established routes used by the smugglers may also be exploited by terrorist groups to infiltrate personnel to cells hidden among the large Moroccan communities in Europe and, once there, easily extend their reach to the United States and other, more distant countries.”

The article examines the various extremist groups and movements operating in Morocco, including the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group (GICM), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as-Salafiya al-Jihadiya (“Salafist Jihad”), as-Sira al-Mustaqim (“The Right Path”), and Ansar al-Islam fissahra al muslima, bilad al mulathamin (“Followers of Islam in Muslim Sahara, the Land of the Veiled Men”). It also looks at the various initiatives which Moroccan government has launched to combat extremist tendencies at their roots as well as the measures it has taken to directly target terrorists. The piece then reviews the status of international cooperation with Moroccan counterterrorism efforts, especially U.S. government programs, before concluding:

While the Moroccan government and its international partners have responded relatively well overall to the challenge which Islamist extremists have posed, there is no denying that the threat continues mount as North African fighters forced out of Iraq by the success of the surge return home while the al-Qaeda’s “franchise operations” in Africa ratchet up the level and scope of their activities. Moreover, the geographical proximity of the Sharifian Kingdom to both Europe, where there are large Maghrebi diaspora communities, and West Africa, where Morocco has not inconsiderable political, economic, and cultural contact, means that the risk cannot be easily contained. In short, Morocco’s fight against jihadist ideology and violence will likely be an ongoing struggle in which the strategic stakes will be increasingly global.

To read the full text of the article, “Islamist Extremism’s Rising Challenge to Morocco,” click here.