Morocco’s security strategy: preventing terrorism and countering extremism


The rising terrorist threats in the region have compelled Morocco to enhance the protection of its vast territory, long borders, 34 million citizens and over 10 million visitors per year. Morocco’s comprehensive security strategy combines a wide range of policies which link the improvement of the socio-economic situation to the capacity to anticipate the risk of terrorism and the operational aspects of the strategy. Security governance and the modernisation of the security forces, religious reform and the promotion of moderate Islam, the involvement of civil society, and close international cooperation, including religious diplomacy, are all key to preventing terrorism and countering extremism. Reforms to improve human security and to lift vulnerable groups out of poverty and exclusion have contributed to enhancing sustainable security. An example for many, Morocco still has a few big challenges ahead, especially to provide quality education, both to ‘immunise’ the minds of the youth against extremism and to create jobs so that hope can be restored to an overwhelmingly young population.


Amid widespread regional conflicts and insecurity, the Kingdom of Morocco has succeeded in preserving its stability. The country has been spared the upheavals of Arab revolts and the new wave of terrorism.Footnote 1 The traditional security challenges facing Morocco are being increasingly exacerbated by a new set of risks and threats that loom heavily over the region. Securing a vast territory, with 34 million citizens, over 10 million tourists, numerous sensitive strategic sites and a proliferation of events (national and international economic and cultural events: conferences, forums, festivals, art fairs etc.) offering a myriad of potential targets, seems a lofty endeavour. External terrorist threats could build on the domestic vulnerabilities of a country where many angry and jobless young people are being seduced by the extremists’ powerful propaganda, which offers both money and the fulfilment of dreams. To deal with such a daunting challenge, Morocco’s comprehensive security strategy combines a wide range of policies which link the improvement of the socio-economic situation with the preventative capacity to anticipate the risks of terrorism and the operational aspects of counter-terrorism work.

However, looking into all the aspects of Morocco’s global security strategy is beyond the scope of this article. Instead it will focus on the various dimensions of the country’s comprehensive pre-emptive strategy to combat terror and counter extremism, from the operational aspects of dealing with immediate potential terrorist threats to mid- and longer-term solutions, and will conclude by discussing Morocco’s involvement in international security cooperation. Constantly adapting to the changing risks and challenges, Morocco’s strategy is based on interrelated principles, values and national interests, which inspire its main features and which will be briefly presented in the first section.

The principles, values and main features of Morocco’s security strategy

The accession to the throne of King Mohammed VI in July 1999 was a turning point for the kingdom with regard to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.Footnote 2 Not only were the ongoing reforms expanded and deepened, but new ones were initiated to launch the king’s modernist democratic vision. It is thanks to the popularly anticipated reforms and King Mohammed VI’s quick response to the 20 February 2011 youth demands for more democracy and the rapid adoption of a new constitution that Morocco was spared the Arab uprising.

The first characteristic of Morocco’s security strategy, which was elaborated under the supervision of the king (who is commander-in-chief of all security forces), is its ambition to be implemented in the framework of ‘the irreversible choice [of the kingdom] to build the rule of law of a democratic State’, as noted in the first article of the preamble to the Moroccan constitution. The values of solidarity, freedom, justice and human rights are to be implemented across the security governance process. Accountability, transparency, the fight against corruption and good governance that is equivalent to higher international standards are to be implemented by enforcement agencies. This is perhaps an original approach in a region where turmoil has given security priority over respect for human rights.

The second characteristic of the security strategy is its holistic, multidimensional and comprehensive approach, as underlined above, of which prevention is the cornerstone.

The third feature, the defence and promotion of moderate Islam and the fight against extremism, stems from the specific character of the ‘one and diverse’ national identity of Morocco, as defined in Paragraph 2 of the preamble to the constitution. The values of openness, moderation, tolerance and dialogue pave the way for active cooperation.Footnote 3

The fourth characteristic is linked to international and South–South cooperation, which is critical to addressing the root causes of and recent trends in insecurity. The fifth characteristic of the security strategy is its dynamic nature, which leaves room for its determined leadership’s pragmatism and flexibility to adapt to rapidly evolving threats and contexts. Last but certainly not least, the centrality of the Sahara question, as a vital interest, is in line with the attachment of the Kingdom of Morocco ‘to its national unity and its territorial integrity’, as stated in the first sentence of Article 2 of the preamble to the Constitution. It is within the framework of ‘the advanced regionalisation to promote the populations’ self-government’ (Article 136 of the Constitution), that ‘the Autonomy Plan’ was implemented.Footnote 4

Security governance to face potential immediate terrorist threats?

External threats, domestic vulnerabilities

‘Since 11 September 2001, 168 cells have been dismantled, leading to the arrest of 2963 people and avoiding 341 attempts of planned terrorist actions’ (Le Matin 2017d). Even if Morocco is spared the new wave of terrorism, security officials are concerned by the threats looming over the region since Daesh was established in Libya and the intensification of operations in the Sahel by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and local terrorist groups.Footnote 5

Moreover, although their numbers have considerably decreased, the Moroccan fighters in Middle Eastern conflict zones and their potential return home are still a matter of serious concern (Aujourd’hui 2017).Footnote 6 Indeed, of the 40 cells dismantled in 2015–16 in Morocco, 36 were closely linked to Daesh. Of the 47 returnees arrested in 2016, 39 came from the Syria–Iraq conflict zones and the other 8 from Libya (Huffpost Maroc 2016). Aside from the risk of the return of trained terrorists, many of these Moroccans hold emir positions with al-Baghdadi and could act as recruiters, targeting mainly the poor, illiterate, jobless and fragile youth through their networks in Morocco.

Indeed, external terrorist threats build on domestic vulnerabilities. The diversification of the terrorists’ profiles is gaining ground (Benhamou 2017). Moroccan youth are no exception to extremist radicalisation, which seems to be a generational phenomenon and one in which the ‘religious factor turned out to be very secondary’ (Ennaji 2016, 7). The powerful Daesh propaganda on social media is increasingly attracting female jihadists as well (Le Matin 2016d).

Securing the borders

For Morocco, securing the borders in this context is an imperative that goes far beyond the obvious reasons of sovereignty. The attractions of Europe are only 14 miles away, there is a hostile neighbour along the country’s eastern frontier and a turbulent buffer zone in the southern Sahara, and the country has numerous ports and airports. So another objective is to keep the activities of organised crime networks and foreign terrorists, and weapons out of Morocco. The Algerian–Moroccan frontier is long and difficult to secure, although it has been closed since it was proved that the terrorist who killed two people in a Marrakech hotel in 1994 had entered Morocco from Algeria. This apparently hermetic barrier has turned out to be open to irregular cross-border trade (Belkhodja 2015). Moroccans suspect Algerian officials of having allowed a massive influx of sub-Saharan illegal migrants to flood the Moroccan territory in order to destabilise the country and tarnish its generous new migration policy (Le Figaro 2017; Le Matin 2016c). Since 2013, over 43,000 undocumented illegal sub-Saharan immigrants have been regularised on the basis of unprecedented solidarity, with the active support of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the National Human Rights Council (Le Matin 2016e). The bloody photos on the front pages of newspapers testify to occasional assaults on the eight-metre-high wire fences of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Eighty-seven assaults took place in 2014 alone, injuring many Moroccan police officers (HuffPost Maroc and AFP 2015).

Moroccan security officials have solid evidence, after the dismantling of terrorist cells, that many suspects and weapons enter Morocco through the Algerian border. This was the case for the spectacular operation in El Jadida, where seven people, heavily armed and on the verge of taking terrorist action, were arrested (Maroc Diplomatique 2017b). Morocco has considerably enhanced its surveillance methods, and Algeria intends to build a three-metre high wall all along the border.

The borders of the southern provinces are affected by the Sahara question, which is a central element in Moroccan politics but far too complex for the limited scope of this article. Morocco built a berm—a sand wall—in the mid-1980s along the southern part of the Morocco-Algeria frontier, to protect the territory from the Polisario attacks.Footnote 7 In addition, UN Security Council Resolution 690 proclaimed a ceasefire on 6 September 1991, created the peacekeeping force MINURSO and established a 3.7 km-wide buffer zone between Morocco and Mauritania. A haven for all sorts of smuggling networks and ‘products’ from cars and cigarettes, to arms, terrorists and migrants, this demilitarised zone is obviously an area of numerous combined risks for Morocco. It is hoped that UN Security Council Resolution 2351 (United Nations 2017) ordering the Polisario to withdraw its armed members from this zone will reduce the tension which has prevailed since summer 2016 (Le360 2017).Footnote 8 Morocco has to maintain extreme vigilance over the area to secure its trade with Africa. The kingdom must, above all, prevent terrorists and arms from entering the country, and this has become especially important since 100 members of the Polisario joined Daesh. There is also increasing concern about the Tindouf camps, which have become a strategic base for the terrorist operations in the Sahel of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Medias 24 2017; Aujourd’hui 2017).Footnote 9

Security governance

To deal with security challenges, the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces have been modernised and the governance of the police forces improved.Footnote 10 In this upgrading process, Morocco can count on close military cooperation with its strategic international partners. Cooperation and training have expanded to new and sophisticated domains such as cybercrime. Although the army’s mission does not normally include domestic anti-terrorism tasks, some of its troops participate in operation ‘Hadar’—surveillance of city streets—alongside the police force, which reassures as well the citizens. Anti-missile devices are sometimes deployed to protect strategic sites, including major airports, as in summer 2014, when Daesh targeted Morocco.

Ample restructuring/modernisation of the security forces was initiated in spring 2015 and complemented by an integrated action plan in 2016 ( 2015).Footnote 11 However, time is required to change the very culture of the sector in order to achieve strict respect for constitutional principles and good governance by all actors.

A pivotal innovation reorganised domestic security under the command of a single general director, targeting several implied benefits and more coordination (L’Opinion 2015).Footnote 12 The new strategy, focused on surveillance, relies on spotting the early signs of potential disruption and social unrest. Networks of proxy agents keep an eye on new inhabitants in suburbs and small rural villages (douars), sharing information in weekly meetings. Particular attention is paid to extremist groups but also to lone wolves, who are isolated and potentially led from outside via social media. Citizens are closely involved with these endeavours. Vigilant neighbours keep an eye on empty short-term rentals and report suspicious movements to the authorities.

More rational management has been adopted, and zero tolerance and ‘clean hands’ operations have been carried out. Severe sanctions, including against high-ranking officers, are publicised to enforce accountability (Alami 2015). Enhanced means and sophisticated equipment have been provided to the services. Education and training have been upgraded across the system, and closer observance of ethical behaviour has been imposed. Furthermore, a new organisation, composed of elite candidates who have received high-quality training in legal and professional matters, has been created. This new unit, the Central Bureau of Judiciary Investigations (BCIJ), was established in Salé on 23 March 2013 and has been labelled ‘the Moroccan FBI’ by the media (H24 Le Figaro 2015). A product of cooperation between the Ministries of Interior and Justice, the BCIJ is meant to operate under the supervision of the general prosecutor, launching thus a new modus operandi. Proximity, communication and efficiency are the three key concepts of the action plan adopted in 2016, while intelligence remains a central pillar of the strategy. The results published for 2015–16 illustrate the efficiency of the police force’s modernisation process in fighting organised crime and terrorism (Le Matin 2016a). These efforts are complemented by mid- and longer-term public policies to counter extremism.

Countering extremism: the reform of the religious field

Initiated in the 1990s and accelerated in 2004, the reform of the religious field is a key element of Morocco’s approach to fighting extremism and radicalisation. To that end, the preservation of moderate Islam in Morocco, carried out through the actualised interpretation of cultural and religious tradition, is important.

As Commander of the Faithful (Article 41 of the constitution), King Mohammed VI contributes to the regulation of the religious sphere, leaving little room for overbidding. Under his leadership, the national strategy seeks to further institutionalise the large adherence to the Sunni ‘Maliki School of Islamic jurisprudence and the Ash’ari theological tradition, both predominant in Morocco, [which] offer flexibility in reconciling religious practice with the modern world’ (Center for Strategic and International Studies 2013, 2). The third pillar of Moroccan Islam is represented by the tradition of Sufism, which is kept alive by religious associations and structures to help people ‘deepen spirituality . . . [and] achieve inner security’ (Centre for Strategic and International Studies 2013, 2).

The regulation of fatwas is achieved through the creation of a single religious authority, The Higher Scholastic Council, which has 80 local councils. The council often drafts the Friday sermons, which are read in mosques across the kingdom. The reform of the training of imams, under the supervision of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has been a central step towards securing Islamic governance. The curricula have been diversified to include history, philosophy, comparative religion and foreign languages, in order to promote open-mindedness and moderation. Opening up the field to women—morchidate—who can advise women believers has been another major innovation. The new Mohammed VI Institute was opened in March 2015 to receive the increasing number of candidates from Morocco and abroad. All graduates are trained to deconstruct extremist discourse and to perform social work.

The Mohammedian League of Islamic Scholars (Arrabita al-Mohammadia) carries out academic research in Islamic studies through 15 centres across the country. It encourages dialogue and interaction on websites, one of which is dedicated to children.Footnote 13 ‘2016 was a remarkable year for Arrabita Mohammadia des Oulamas and for Morocco in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism’ (Morocco World News 2016). The Arrabita launched an electronic platform called Ra’ed and a series of books titled Islam and Contemporary Context that aims to deconstruct extremism discourse (TelQuel 2016). ‘Research on Islamic texts is indeed essential to fight extremism’ (La Croix 2016). The main challenge is to dispel the misconceptions about Islam, which prevail in the West. Restoring Islam’s true message of peace also involves preventing and fighting risky behaviours. This approach is necessary to correct, for instance, the negative image of women, which is erroneously attributed to Islam. One must study all the texts of the Koranic concepts to conclude that Islam condemns all kinds of violence against women, insists Farida Zomorod (Le Matin 2016b). In 2014, the Studies and Research Centre on Women’s Issues in Islam of Arrabita Mohammadia des Ulemas-Rabat-won a prize for being the best research institute on women in the Muslim world.

Political monitoring of domestic Islamists by the government has also been skilfully carried out. As political parties could not be set up on religious bases, the main islamist movement was allowed to merge in the mid-1990s with an existing party under the name of Justice and Development. The present prime minister belongs to that party which ranked first in the November 2011 and October 2016 elections.

Beyond religious matters per se, a number of activities and festivals are carried out in the economic, cultural and social fields to promote the true image of peaceful Islam, of an Islam, which is ‘women friendly’.Footnote 14 Great efforts are also being made, with the active involvement of civil society and sports stars or celebrities, to fight all forms of radicalisation and propaganda within prisons. Attempts to better rehabilitate former prisoners are also being undertaken (Le Matin 2017a).

The prevention of youth radicalisation is high on the agenda of the vast network of Families Against Terrorism and Extremism. A platform has been developed to support families, who are key to early identification of the signs of radicalisation. Interventions to deconstruct violent discourse and help the youth reintegrate into society are carried out.Footnote 15

Occasionally, Moroccan efforts have convinced extremists to revoke their views, as has been the case for many detainees, including members of Salafia Jihadia, who wished to join political parties. The most spectacular change of attitude was that of the ideologist of extremist Salafism, Imam Al Fizazi, who went on to lead a prayer in the presence of the King on 28 March 2014 (Iraqi 2016). These efforts complement the long-term strategies to promote human security.

Addressing the root causes of sustainable security

External threats can exploit domestic risks and vulnerabilities. The vast reforms launched in Morocco at the turn of the century include the ambition to provide citizens with a real stake in their own society through inclusive political and socio-economic development to create jobs and enhance sustainable human security.Footnote 16 Such is also the ambition of the new sustainable and inclusive development plan for the Sahara region, elaborated through a large consultation process, which proposes a new bottom-up, community-based social pact dynamic (Morocco, Economic, Social and Environment Council 2013). This model includes the project of the gradual integration of populations returning from the Tindouf camps (in Algeria) and should protect the youth of this fragile province. Over three decades, huge investments—seven times higher than the income generated by local resources—have allowed the socio-economic progress of this region to reach a human development indicator higher than that of the national average.Footnote 17

Some targeted programmes, such as the National Human Development Initiative, launched in 2005, seek to lift vulnerable groups and territories out of poverty and exclusion. This multifaceted approach, which has benefited 10 million people, is enhancing social cohesion. It will be continued by a vast five-year programme with more equity and considerable funding. (The National Observatory of Human Development Report 2005–2016. Rmiche 2017; Le Matin 2017d).Footnote 18 The objectives include restoring hope and dignity for poor, illiterate young people, who are the first targets of Daesh’s active recruitment.Footnote 19

In addition to this specific programme, a large number of NGOs, business and public sectors, and universities, supported by robust bilateral cooperation, have taken the lead in countering extremism and defending democracy, human rights, youth, women and the most vulnerable groups. To fight radicalisation and secure the rehabilitation of former prisoners, initiatives are as well mushrooming. Combined efforts carry out concrete projects for better vocational training to improve the employability of youth and correct the mismatch between training and the needs of the labour market. Among numerous innovative projects, Al Ikram Lil Amal—Dignity for Hope—for instance, endeavours to give a second chance to young drop-outs from poor backgrounds and to follow up on their social reintegration.Footnote 20 Citizens’ vigilance committees, such as Stop Terrorism Praise, have set up tracking systems on social media to signal any promotion of hatred, discrimination, violence or terrorism, and all illegal declarations, with the support of the Human Rights Council.Footnote 21

However, affected by the conjunction of Europe’s crises, the region’s turbulence, the downturn in tourism and remittances, and recurrent droughts, Morocco has not reached the 6.5% GDP growth needed to foster youth employment.

Enabling and immunising the mind: education reform

Education and training is the cornerstone for socio-economic development and job creation.Footnote 22 Along with culture, education is a powerful vector to give students the intellectual tools they need to develop and maintain an open-minded, interrogatory outlook (Rose 2015).

Strategic Vision 201530: For a School of Equity, Quality and Promotion is on track in Morocco (Conseil Supérieur de l’Education de la Formation et de la Recherche Scientifique 2015). The stakes are high. Global inclusiveness and quality should be seriously improved by the generalisation of pre-schooling, more efficiency and better coordination. Enhanced vocational training, targeting qualified labour and middle management positions, should offer better job opportunities, especially to satisfy the demands of increased investment in sophisticated fields such as the South–South cooperation brand-new joint China–Morocco project (Huffpost Maroc and MAP 2017). As well as degrees in the national languages—Arabic, Amazigh and French—the education system is adding ones in English and Spanish to its offering, to increase opportunities.Footnote 23 The reform has also been extended to Islamic studies.

Enhanced international cooperation to fight terrorism and extremism for a more secure world

Morocco’s ability to look clearly into innovative questions and to develop new attitudes has empowered it to renovate and diversify its strategic partnerships and to initiate novel approaches, as with sub-Saharan Africa.Footnote 24 Its stability, moderation and leadership’s determination to embrace democratisation and modernity and promote moderate Islam have made the kingdom a key partner for many in fighting terror and countering extremism (Maroc Diplomatique 2017a).Footnote 25

First, on the multilateral level, Morocco participates in international initiatives, such as the Antiterrorist Committee initiated by the US and the Netherlands, and in AFRICOM.Footnote 26 It is also part of the US-led international coalition which operates air strikes in Iraq and Syria on IS positions and in the Saudi-led one to counter the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. As a member of the NATO Mediterranean dialogue and thanks to a bilateral programme with this institution, Morocco participates regularly in NATO’s military, humanitarian and political commissions, and in its exercises to improve all aspects of military training.Footnote 27

Second, on the bilateral level, Morocco’s security cooperation has been considerably intensified with some of its partners in order to fight terrorism and extremism.

This collaboration has allowed European countries to avoid several terrorist attacks (L’observateur 2015). It is certainly ‘Moroccan-Spanish cooperation [which should be] a model for the countries of the region’ in the fight against terrorism (Amrani 2017). Its ‘efficient results’ were hailed by the Spanish minister of the interior after the arrest on 26 May 2017 of 11 jihadists in Tangier and Barcelona. Of these, four were in Brussels on the eve of the 22 March 2016 terrorist attack (Asmlal 2017).Footnote 28 Regular press announcements, both in Spain and Morocco, give a lot of visibility to the recurrent fruits of this close cooperation, which extends beyond Morocco to embrace the Sahel region (Hallaoui 2017).

With France as well, cooperation is extremely efficient, even if it is not given the same publicity. It is well known, for instance, that it is thanks to the information supplied by Moroccan intelligence that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ‘brains’ of the 13 November 2015 combined terrorist attacks in Paris, was located.Footnote 29 Regular news reveals that the Moroccan intelligence services also work closely with their Belgian and other European counterparts. Unfortunately, the early alerts they provide have not always been investigated in time.Footnote 30 This security cooperation has lately expanded to incorporate the religious dimension.

Third, religious cooperation to counter extremism is high on the agenda. The training of imams in Morocco is probably the service most requested by the country’s partners. Religious cooperation international accords, mainly covering this issue, have been signed with over 15 countries, with little publicity about this sensitive matter. This is the case with France (September 2015) and Russia. Most of the others have been signed with African countries during the king’s numerous visits in the continent.Footnote 31 The Mohammed VI Institute has expanded its capacity to deal with the increasing demand. Over 800 future imams, mainly from France and five African countries (Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Nigeria) are now following either a two- to three-year-long course, or a three-month one, depending on the wishes of their countries. The training programmes take into account the respective countries’ differences (Le Matin 2017e; Iraqi 2017).

In Africa, given the great number of Muslim countries on the continent; the rise of extremism and of terrorist groups; and the strong religious legitimacy of King Mohammed VI, descendant of the Prophet and Commander of the Faithful, promoting moderate Islam seems appealing to many countries. Therefore, religious diplomacy has developed progressively as a new element in Morocco’s geopolitical soft power and contribution to African security (Tadlaoui 2015). The creation in June 2015 of the Mohammed VI Foundation of the African Ulema (religious scholars) seeks to capitalise on common fundamentals and coordinate and unify the efforts to promote a moderate Islam to counter religious extremism on the continent (Iraqi 2017).

Morocco has in fact launched a new form of cooperation with the rest of Africa, much beyond the well-known regular participation of the Moroccan military forces in peacekeeping operations since 1960 (Le Matin 2015).Footnote 32 More balanced, based on solidarity and a new migration policy, it seeks to promote co-development, shared prosperity and security. The National Human Development Initiative model analysed above, for instance, has attracted an increasing number of Morocco’s African partners (Le Matin 2017b). The ‘Moroccan Strategy . . . is the example we look for’, declared US Undersecretary of State for African Affairs Bisa Williams (Le Matin 2015). Beyond its traditional francophone partners, Morocco is reaching out to English-speaking African countries as well.


Even if Morocco is often cited as an example in the fight against terrorism and extremism, the kingdom does not present itself as a model, given the magnitude of the challenge. However, some can learn from its expertise and experience, mainly from the involvement of its citizens and civil society in enhancing security. It seeks to constantly fine-tune its approach and learn from events and from its partners. Moroccan officials have on many occasions deplored the lack of security cooperation between Algeria and Morocco when facing the rising terrorist threat in the region.

Morocco still has quite a few challenges to overcome to consolidate its security. Indeed, the kingdom needs to successfully achieve all of the initiated reforms, especially the provision of quality education and justice. To improve human security, the country must in particular win the battles against poverty, disparities and corruption, which can offer fertile ground for radicalisation. Above all, to create jobs and restore hope among the young, Morocco has to improve its economic productivity and its education system, as underlined recently by the World Bank 2017 Country Economic Memorandum (Chauffour 2017).

To achieve sustainable stability and security, Morocco is actively working to reach international recognition of its sovereignty over the Sahara. In that endeavour, the kingdom’s security strategy will help the country to remain a safe haven for its citizens and visitors. In the present regional turmoil, Morocco represents a valuable asset not only for its strategic partners, but also for Africa’s future, especially since the kingdom joined the African Union on 31 January.


  1. 1.

    The Mediterranean security problem grew after Daesh surged to the East and towards the Sahelian border.

  2. 2.

    Educated and trained to rule the country, the king spent a year in Brussels becoming familiar with the complexities of the European system, given that the EU is Morocco’s primary economic partner.

  3. 3.

    Morocco’s national identity is ‘forged by the convergence of its Arab–Islamist, Berber [amazighe] and Saharan–Hassanic [saharo–hassanie] components, nourished and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebraic and Mediterranean influences’ (Ruchti 2012, 3).

  4. 4.

    After much consultation with the political parties, Morocco proposed an ‘Autonomy Plan’, which UN Security Council Resolution 1754 hailed as ‘serious and credible efforts made by Morocco to progress towards the settlement’ of this question. These terms will be used by all subsequent UN resolutions related to this subject’ (UN Security Council 2007).

  5. 5.

    Morocco has been targeted three times by terrorist attacks: in May 1994, May 2003 and April 2011.

  6. 6.

    Since January 2014, the number of Moroccans fighting with Daesh has fallen to 865; about 100 are members of Harakat Cham Al Islam and 52 of Jabhat Fath Cham (formerly Jabhat al-Nousra) (Aujourd’hui 2017).

  7. 7.

    The Polisario (the movement claiming independence for the Sahara) was constituted in Zouirate, Mauritania, on 10 May 1973.

  8. 8.

    About 40 goods trucks and 100 cars travel daily along this road, which channels trade between Europe, Morocco and Africa. Several Moroccan complaints have been addressed to the UN secretary-general about this question. See among others, the letter attached to the secretary-general’s report S/2005/602; 24/02/2006 and Letter of the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Secretary-General on 10/04/2009.

  9. 9.

    From an interview with Mr Abdelhak Khiame, chief of the Central Bureau of Judiciary Investigations, by the French media France 24 Arabic TV channel.

  10. 10.

    Bilateral cooperation with the US is getting closer in this field, as shown in the agreement (August 2014) allowing Morocco’s services to benefit from the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, a support programme established by the US Secretary of State to train candidates in the fight against cyber-terrorism (Igmena 2016).

  11. 11.

    On 20 August 2015, a speech by King Mohammed VI underlined Morocco’s mobilisation against terrorism and praised the outstanding work of the security forces.

  12. 12.

    Abdellatif Hammouchi was appointed on 15 May 2015 as general director of the national police, in addition to being the head of the Territorial Security and Intelligence Branch.

  13. 13.

    The creation of Arrabita al-Mohammadia took place in the framework of the religious reform with various functions, from research to restoring the true image of Islam and countering extremism to carrying out assistance missions on the ground. For more information about this subject, please see and

  14. 14.

    The Ministry of Religious Affairs provides assistance to the women’s entrepreneur association, Association des Femmes Entrepreneurs du Maroc (AFEM), and the Pioneer Programme, which was set up to help poor young women create their first company.

  15. 15.

    See Families Against Terrorism and Extremism (n.d.).

  16. 16.

    National and sectorial plans were established to build infrastructure, transport and communication links and to expand offshoring niche, with some outstanding projects, such as the Tangier–Med port, the first green car plant in the world established in Tangier’s industrial zone by Renault, the TGV-high-speed train service, planned to be operational in summer 2018.

  17. 17.

    Recurrent polemics take place about the natural resources of these provinces.

  18. 18.

    The National Observatory of Human Development Report 2005–2016 (Rabat) has not been published but was included in Le Matin (Rmiche 2017; Le Matin 2017c).

  19. 19.

    Fifty per cent of the population is under 25 years old. The diversification of profiles complicates the identification of potential terrorists.

  20. 20.

    This NGO is supported by Casal Dels Infants (a Spanish institution) and a French Technical School. See Association Al Ikram (n.d.).

  21. 21.

    Anti-terror laws have been developed since 2003. Praise of terrorism is severely condemned in Article 218-2 of the Penal Code.

  22. 22.

    Education remains the main problem in the Middle East and North Africa, where neither quantity nor quality have been achieved.

  23. 23.

    Education ‘to citizenship’ is a programme conducted by the National Human Rights Council and UNESCO, thanks to a textbook especially prepared to that end. See UNESCO & Conseil National des Droits de l'Homme. (2015).

  24. 24.

    These approaches include solidarity and unconditional aid for the least developed countries, a new model for migration policies for African immigrants, and the choice of a green economy and renewable energy, as shown by the success of ‘COP 22’ at the 22nd Conference of the Parties at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

  25. 25.

    Despite some occasional clouds, Morocco enjoys ‘advanced status’ with the EU and leads tight cooperation with its member states.

  26. 26.

    In this context, ‘African Lion’, the 14th joint US–Moroccan exercise in the south of Morocco, ended on 16 April 2017. To improve interoperability in Africa, the US Army plans for US Marines to take Darija-speaking Moroccan Arabic courses in Rabat.

  27. 27.

    Morocco benefited from 59 military operations in 2013 and 40 in 2012, mainly the demining of the Sahara.

  28. 28.

    The four suspects were in contact with Yassine Al Attar, who was involved in the 22 March 2016 terrorist attack on Brussels and who is the brother of Oussama Al Attar (Abou Ahmed, the coordinator of Daesh’s operations in Europe).

  29. 29.

    He could be traced thanks to his family connections in Agadir (Morocco) and in particular his cousin Hasna bint Ait Abou Lahcen in Paris.

  30. 30.

    Such was the case before the attack on the Berlin market in December 2016, for instance.

  31. 31.

    Among these are Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and, more recently, Tanzania. No real publicity has been given to this matter, as most of our partners prefer discretion.

  32. 32.

    The following statement was made by Bisa Williams, in a seminar about security in Nouakshott (Mauritania): ‘We greatly appreciate the Moroccan experience in all of Africa, especially in the Sahel, as Morocco has endeavoured to ensure that other countries can benefit from its experience in the field of fighting violent extremism . . . and of training imams, notably in West Africa. . . . The Moroccan strategy . . . [which] conveys a great message to the sub-Saharan countries, telling them they are welcome in Morocco, is the example we look for.’ (Le Matin 2015) (Author’s translation).


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Bensalah Alaoui, A. Morocco’s security strategy: preventing terrorism and countering extremism. European View 16, 103–120 (2017).

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  • Borders
  • Terrorism
  • Governance
  • Intelligence
  • Counter extremism
  • Moderate Islam
  • Cooperation
  • Security