MOROCCO: Towards a new approach of violent extremism after the murder of two Scandinavian women?

– HRWF (06.01.2019) – In the aftermath of the brutal murder of two young Scandinavian women in the Atlas mountains a few weeks ago, several journalists and intellectuals in Morocco have questioned the efficiency of Rabat’s anti-extremist policy. On 25 December 2018, Morocco World News published an interesting article of Youssef El Kaidi, a PhD candidate at the University of Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdelah Fez, entitled “Terrorism in Morocco, a drastic approach needed now” (https://bit.ly/2Vzw8wg). See hereafter large excerpts of his paper (the titles in the text are those of HRWF).

 

“Morocco has invested significant efforts in both the security and religious fields in order to build its reputation as a peaceful, welcoming, and tolerant country in the otherwise turbulent region of North Africa and the Middle East. Those efforts were consistent and serious, leading ultimately to very positive effects worldwide.(…)

About the murder of the two Scandinavian women in the Atlas and the prevention of violent religious extremism

The proactive measures taken by Morocco’s intelligence and security services have made the country impenetrable ever since the inception of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or so it seemed. Does this crime indicate that Morocco has finally been penetrated? Is this terrorist act an indication of more terrorist activity taking place in our country in the coming days? Were the security and religious approaches implemented by the government to fight religious extremism really enough? What measures can be taken next to spare the country from other harsh incidents?

The above questions are pressing and should be thoroughly contemplated and addressed before any strategic move in the fight against religious extremism is made in the future. The religious and security approaches that Morocco has relied upon so far were very instrumental and should not be underestimated or belittled.

The strategic national policy initiated by King Mohammed VI in the aftermath of the 2003 Casablanca attacks to monitor and manage the religious field through the control of mosques, the training of moderate religious scholars and preachers, and the control of fatwas by appointing the Supreme Scientific Council were all very successful. Moroccan intelligence and security services have also managed, since 2002, to dismantle more than 183 terrorist cells across the country, according to the Central Bureau of Judiciary Investigations (BCIJ).

The recent murder of two Scandinavian tourists, however, has raised concerns about Morocco’s counterterrorism approach, which had previously inspired many countries at the regional and international levels. The dismantling of dozens of terrorist cells every year should have been seen as an indicator of the strong existence of the terrorist ideology in Morocco. The successful and decisive intervention of Morocco’s intelligence services before those terrorist cells could translate their ideology into brutality and bloodshed does not change the fact that the mechanisms by which that ideology works and spreads are still operating.

Therefore, terrorists and religious extremists could even be around us anywhere on any day, in private and public places, waiting for the right time and the right place to put their radical beliefs into action.  The claim made by one of the arrested suspects in a video declaring his allegiance to ISIS prior to the murder of the Scandinavian tourists should be taken seriously. He said, addressing the leader of ISIS, Abu-Bakar Al-Baghdadi: “You should know that only God knows of the exact number of the followers you have in Morocco.”  How can we track down and prevent those followers? What about those who firmly hold the ideology but do not belong to organized terrorist cells?

Fighting against the roots of violent religious extremism

We need to understand that religious extremism is an ideology and the fight against it should be at the intellectual and educational levels first and foremost. Morocco, despite the efforts that have been made, was remarkably lenient with the discourses of hate, intolerance, and bigotry which surface in schools, the media, and public spaces.

We have repeatedly seen videos circulating on social media by prominent Wahhabi leaders in Morocco demonizing and threatening intellectuals such as Ahmed Assid, Rachid Aylal, and others by accusing them of heresy. Somehow, those people were never arrested or tried (*). Perhaps the pressures by Islamic forces (Islamic parties, Islamic groups, conservative civil society, etc.) in the country put the state in a difficult and complicated position. Those conservative forces have always fiercely objected to reforms interpreting them as secular and anti-Islam, starting from the Modawana (family code) in 2003 to the Islamic education school curriculum reform in 2018.

The recent terrorist attack near the tranquil and peaceful village of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains awakens us to the bitter truth that terrorism is a constantly looming threat for Morocco. Thus, a more drastic and comprehensive approach should be implemented with zero tolerance to bigots, extremists, and the advocates of hate and terror in the name of religion.

Morocco should address the conditions conducive to the emergence and spread of terrorism by fighting poverty and social disparity in the country. Moreover, strengthening the educational system and building students’ cultural awareness, promoting the culture of peace and coexistence through educational programs and curricula, ensuring humans rights and the rule of law, and promoting the universal values of peace, justice, co-existence, integrity, love, and cross-cultural dialogue would be a few steps in the right direction.

May the souls of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland rest in peace, and may peace, love, and prosperity prevail in the world.”

(*) HRWF comments

A few days ago, Sheikh Kettani, an Islamist preacher, heavily criticized Moroccan channel 2M for airing on New Year’s Eve a comedy show allegedly degrading Qadi Ayyad, an Islamist scholar in the 11th and 12th century.He also called on Ulama council’s scholars and intellectuals to condemn and raise voices against this act.Seikh Kettani was a former political prisoner. In September 2003, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for alleged connections to the Casablanca bombings in 2003. Eight years later, Kettani was granted a royal pardon due to efforts of his lawyer, Mustapha Ramid, who also obtained the pardon of other Islamists along with promises to renounce violence and extremism. In 2012, Ramid became Morocco’s Minister of Justice as a member of the Party of Development and Justice (PJD) advocating Islamism.The PJD is the main party in the government with almost 1/3 of the seats in the parliament.

In 2017, another controversial cleric, Sheikh Abdellah Annahari, stirred up controversy once again on social media by claiming that celebrating New Year’s Eve was “undoubtedly Haram.” In a video shared on his Facebook account, the Salafist preacher declared that celebrating the New Year would be an “unforgivable sin” and that all New Year’s commercial activities should be strictly prohibited.“Whoever celebrates the New Year is no different from Christians and their religion of debauchery,” Annahari said. “Buying or selling the fir tree is Haram, taking a picture next to Santa Claus is Haram, partying is Haram and even sending New Year wishes is Haram,” he shouted while violently stumping his cane. Annahari also claimed that celebrating any non-Muslim festivity will lead to imitation of the “infidels’ creeds”. The Oujda-based cleric, who is well known for his provocative statements, went as far as describing as “zebras” Moroccans who exchange hugs during their celebrations. (More about Annahari on Morocco World News: https://bit.ly/2Re4OW6https://bit.ly/2VswULL)

The Islamist ideology is alive and well in politics and society in Morocco.




Denmark deports Said Mansour, deprived of citizenship, to Morocco

– By Susanna Spurgeon

– Morocco World News (05.01.2019) – Denmark has deported Said Mansour, convicted of incitement to terrorism and formerly a dual Moroccan-Danish citizen, to Morocco.

According to Danish media, Mansour arrived in Casablanca yesterday night, aboard Royal Air Maroc flight 222 from Copenhagen. Danish authorities handed him into Moroccan custody.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen tweeted that he was “very satisfied” with Mansour’s deportation: “Said Mansour has been handed over to the Moroccan authorities. A final end to a pertinent effort to carry out the Danish Supreme Court’s ruling to deport him in 2016…. It sends a clear message that criminal foreigners, who so obviously act against the Danish values and promote terrorism, do not belong in Denmark.”

Rasmussen had talked to Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita in December about Mansour’s deportation, according to Danish news outlet Horsens Folkeblad.

‘Justice has been served’

Danish immigration minister Inger Stojberg was in Morocco this week on a secret trip to make a deal with Morocco on the deportation.

In a statement today, Stojberg said, “Justice has been served.” Mansour, she said, was “one of the most fanatic Islamists who we have deported…. He was on the very top of our list.”

In an unprecedented 2015 ruling, a Danish court stripped Said Mansour of his Danish citizenship. The court had convicted Mansour of incitement to terrorism for Facebook posts praising Osama bin Laden and encouraging followers to join the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, according to Al Jazeera.

The court sentenced Mansour to four years in prison. Mansour appealed the loss of his citizenship, arguing he would face torture in Morocco.

The Danish Supreme Court in 2016 ruled against Mansour, and the Danish government has since been trying to deport him.

Stojberg today asserted the deportation deal “is completely in order concerning the obligations we have to abide by the international human rights of Said Mansour.” The remarks imply Denmark received promises from Morocco that Mansour would not be physically harmed, tortured, or executed.

On December 17, 2018, Danish tourist Louisa Vesterager Jespersen was found murdered with a Norwegian tourist near Imlil, in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Morocco has arrested 23 suspects in the case and connected it to terrorism.

The Imlil murders may have expedited Denmark’s efforts to deport Said Mansour.

Mansour was the first Danish citizen to lose his citizenship and be deported.

In 2007, Mansour received a separate terror conviction and spent 3.5 years in prison in Denmark.

Born in Morocco, Mansour has lived in Denmark since 1983, earning citizenship in 1988. He has four children with a Danish ex-wife and grandchildren living in Denmark.

Morocco does not have an extradition agreement with Denmark. According to a Norwegian source, many Norwegian and Danish criminals come to Morocco to avoid extradition.




Morocco’s policy against radicalisation and the EU

– EU Observer (27.12.2018) – https://euobserver.com/opinion/143795– Just before Christmas, two young Scandinavian women were brutally murdered in the Atlas mountains where they were hiking.

Four men said to commit the murder were quickly arrested.

They had videoed their murder and decapitation of the two women and posted the video to the internet.

One of them has a criminal record and since 2013 has been known to the police for his extremist views. He is said to have instilled violent jihadist beliefs into the three other suspects, according to Boubker Sabik, spokesperson of the General Directorate of National Security and Territorial Surveillance (DGSN).

As many other Muslim-majority countries, Morocco has been infiltrated by the Salafist ideology in recent decades.

Morocco’s formal response to terror threats began after the 2003 Casablanca bombings, which killed 33 people and wounded over 100 others.

The aftermath of an April 2011 terrorist attack in Marrakesh that killed 17 people saw enhanced prevention efforts.

During the past 15 years, Morocco’s government tightened its security apparatus, increased control of its borders, asserted authority over the religious sphere, revised religious education at school and created an institute for the training of imams.

To tighten security, Morocco launched its own version of the FBI, the Bureau Central d’Investigation Judiciaire (BCJI).

Since its creation in 2015, it reportedly uncovered 40 terrorist cells, including a ten-women IS group, arrested almost 600 people and helped several EU countries to arrest suspects with ties to terrorism.

Official sources list 1,692 Moroccans as fighting with ISIS in the Middle East and Rabat arrested 242 fighters on their return home.

Returnees typically receive sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years in prison.

Safer than most EU states

To place this all in context, the recently published Global Terrorism  Index 2018 listed Morocco at 132 out of 163 (the higher the number the lower the impact of terrorism).

This puts the North African country among the nations least affected by terrorism, safer than most EU countries.

In an effort to prevent the salafisation of its youth, Morocco began 10 years ago to educate its own imams.

In 2015, the country opened the Mohammed VI Institute in Rabat where imams from all over the world can study and teach moderate Islam.

The school currently hosts 250 Moroccans (100 of whom are women) and 675 students from Mali, the Ivory Coast, France, Niger and French Guinea.

With the same goal, the ministries of national education and vocational training and the religious endowments and affairs reviewed school materials to promote education on the Islamic values of tolerance and coexistence with other cultures and to encourage openness to the modern era.

The Salafist movement resisted the changes in education materials when members learned that “Islamic education” would become “religious education.”

Some Salafist groups also criticised one of the pictures on the cover of a new textbook, which shows boys and girls of different races holding hands in front of the sun.

Bilateral security cooperation is central to Morocco’s relationships with European countries.

In recent years, Morocco established partnerships with many EU member states to prevent terrorism.

These are beneficial to both sides. France, Spain, Germany, the UK and other European countries have made particular effort to reinforce their security cooperation with Rabat.

Morocco’s domestic security is a key element of human security in Europe.

Anti-terrorist cooperation between vulnerable EU member states and the north African kingdom needs to be further developed.

Willy Fautre is director of Human Rights Without Frontiers in Brussels




BELGIUM: Citizenship deprivation against dual nationals recruiting young Muslims , an efficient measure?

– By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers –

HRWF (27.10.2018) – On 23 October 2018, the Court of Appeal of Antwerp stripped dual national Fouad Belkacem of his Belgian citizenship, leaving the leader of Sharia4Belgium with his sole Moroccan nationality. He was accused of recruiting young Muslims as jihadists for the Islamic State. In 2015, Fouad Belkacem was sentenced to 12 years in jail and fined 300,000 euros for being the leader of a terrorist outfit. Without his Belgian nationality, Fouad Belkacem can be expelled to Morocco but he can still take the matter to the Court of Cassation where procedural issues are settled. Belgian Asylum Secretary Theo Francken has welcomed the news on social media. On Twitter he wrote: “Terrorist leader loses nationality. Excellent, but it should happen automatically in the event of a terrorism conviction.”

On 1 December 2017, the Court of Appeal in Brussels deprived two dual nationals of their Belgian citizenship. It ruled that Bilal Soughir, who had recruited in 2005 the Belgian and first Western kamikaze Muriel Degauque, would be stripped of his Belgian citizenship and would consequently only retain his Tunisian nationality. It also ruled that Malika El Aroud, a 58-year-old woman convicted of recruiting young Brussels Muslims to fight in the so-called “holy war” in Afghanistan, be stripped of her Belgian citizenship. She now only has Moroccan citizenship. In her case, the proceedings started in 2014 but took three years before the decision of the court because her solicitor had taken the case to the Constitutional Court. At the Court of Appeal, the Advocate-General said that Ms El Aroud no longer deserved Belgian citizenship as “for many years she has continually spread jihadism in our country”. Malika El Aroud, also known as the “Black Widow of the Jihad, had twice been married to Muslim extremists, both of whom died in the so-called “holy war’. She was first the wife of Dahmane Abd al-Sattar, a.k.a. Abdessatar Dahmane, one of the men who killed anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Arrested in 2008 for recruiting young Muslims for Osama bin Laden, she was sentenced to 8 years in prison and fined 5,000 euro for terrorist-related offences in 2010.

Recruiting young people for the jihad in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries is a drama for their families and training them on such battlefields for subsequently perpetrating terrorist attacks in Europe constitutes a serious threat to national and human security in Belgium and other European countries. However, court procedures aiming at the deprivation of their citizenship take many years in democratic countries as there are many possibilities of legal recourse. Moreover, such a court decision can only be effective if they are immediately deported at the end of their prison term and if their country of origin accepts them…

Fouad Belkacem: Belgian Islamist leader loses citizenship

BBC (23.10.2018) – https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45951138 – Jailed Islamist Fouad Belkacem, whose group Sharia4Belgium sent dozens of jihadists to Syria, has been stripped of his Belgian citizenship and faces deportation to Morocco.

The appeal court in Antwerp ruled that he had fallen seriously short of his duties as a citizen.

Belkacem was jailed in 2015 for leading a terror group, many of whose recruits joined jihadist group Islamic State.

More Belgians per capita went to fight in Syria than from any other EU state.

Some of those who returned to Europe were involved in the Paris attacks in 2015 and the Brussels bombings of March 2016.

Belkacem’s Sharia4Belgium originated in Antwerp, recruiting the first Belgian fighters before it was disbanded.

It took its inspiration from Islam4UK, a group once led by Anjem Choudary, a radical preacher who was released from a British jail on 19 October. During Belkacem’s 2015 trial it emerged that he had co-founded Sharia4Belgium shortly after spending time at a London mosque.

Another group known as the Zerkani network recruited jihadists, such as Paris attacker Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Brussels bomber Najim Laachraoui, from the Molenbeek area of Brussels.

After he was given a 12-year jail term, Belgian officials began work on removing his citizenship. As a dual national he retains Moroccan citizenship.

Belgian Migration Minister Theo Francken praised the decision to strip Belkacem of his Belgian nationality, but added that such a move should be automatic after any terrorism conviction.

Removing citizenship from jihadists with dual nationality remains controversial. France announced plans to introduce the policy after the November 2015 attacks but dropped them the following year.

Belkacem is not the first Belgian linked to terror to lose his nationality. Malika el-Aroud was stripped of her citizenship last year for leading an al-Qaeda linked group.

He can still appeal against the decision to Belgium’s court of last resort, the court of cassation, or to the European Court of Justice.

His lawyer, Liliane Verjauw, said he no longer had any connection to Morocco and considered himself Belgian.

“His family has been here for 50 years, over three generations. His Belgian nationality is part of his identity,” she said.




European Parliament: HRWF debate on child marriage on EU REPORTER TV

– Watch the video here:  https://youtu.be/wgOK0_XA6Vg

Panelists

Elisa Van Ruiten, a Gender Specialist at Human Rights Without Frontiers International;
Mohinder Watson, a researcher and activist against child marriage, who escaped a forced marriage of her own as a teenager;
Emilio Puccio, the Coordinator of the European Parliament Intergroup on Children’s Rights, which is a cross-party and cross-national group comprising over 90 MEPs and 25 child-focused organizations.

The presenter was EU Reporter’s Jim Gibbons.

“Every day somewhere in the world, 39,000 young girls are married before they reach the age of majority; more than a third of them are younger than 15, according to the Council of Europe. We may be well into the 21st century but too many girls are still forced to live in a bygone age of male dominance. Human Rights Without Frontiers has just produced a report on women’s rights and the Abrahamic faiths o Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”

EU Reporter – https://bit.ly/2CTvNPh

Next Programme about North Korea (November) –

IF YOU WANT TO BE A PARTNER OF HUMAN RIGHTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS IN AN EU REPORTER TV PROGRAM OF YOUR CHOICE, SEND AN EMAIL TO

w.fautre@hrwf.org




belgium: Deadly terrorist incident in Liège raises the issue of ‘conversion’ and ‘radicalisation’ in prison

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (08.06.2018) – On 29 May, a gunman killed two female police officers and a student in Liège before he was shot dead by police. Prosecutors are investigating the shooting as a terrorist incident.

The shooting occurred around 10:30am local time near a high school on a major road in the city, which lies some 90 kilometres east of Brussels.

The local public prosecutor said the man armed with a knife repeatedly stabbed the two policewomen, then used their firearms to shoot them dead, and shouted ‘al-Akhbar’. One of the deceased officers had already lost her husband and leaves behind two 13-year old twin daughters.

After the killings, the man continued on foot, opening fire on a parked vehicle where a 22-year old student sat in the passenger seat. The young man, who had recently finished his exams and was to become a teacher, died. The killer then continued and entered the Leonie de Waha school where he held a cleaning lady hostage. When he realised that she was Muslim, he asked her if she was observing Ramadan. When the woman replied yes, he answered that he would not kill her. The woman pleaded with him and tried to convince him that it is bad for a Muslim to kill other people.

The killer was eventually shot in a gunfight during which several other police officers were wounded. He had past convictions for robbery, violence and drug dealing.

In 2015 a Brussels-based Islamic State (IS) cell was involved in the attacks on Paris that killed 130 people in 2015, and in the 2016 attacks in Brussels, which resulted in the death of 32 people.

A Belgian ‘convert’ to Islam

The killer’s name is Benjamin Herman, a typical Belgian name. He was born in 1982 in Belgium and his parents are not Muslims. He had past convictions for robbery, violence and drug dealing. During the shootings, Herman was on a penitentiary leave, which had been the case a dozen times before, and not always without problems.

Herman is suspected of having been ‘radicalised’ in prison by Fouad B. who has been again arrested on 7 June.

Fouad B. was sentenced for acts of violence in 2002 and 2005. In 2006, he committed a robbery at gun point in a night shop in Verviers, a small city in the east of Belgium where an extremist cell was dismantled and an imam was recently deported. Fouad B. was sentenced to a suspended sentence of two years but shortly after assaulted a man on the street and was sent back to prison.

More names of detainees said to have radicalised Benjamin Herman have emerged in the media, such as Yassine Dibi and Joey Leclercq.

It has been known for years that there are strong links between radical Muslims claiming to be pro-jihad and criminals. The meeting place between these two worlds, which are otherwise light years away from each other, is within the penitentiary system. It is in prison that Benjamin Herman began to practice Islam. A former cell-mate testified on a Belgian TV channel that Herman was praying five times a day and scrupulously observing Ramadan.

Conversion to a peaceful religion or to a deadly political  ideology?

Recruiters for Islamist ideology in prisons are not spreading a peaceful and loving Islam among other detainees, which would make them better citizens, better husbands, better fathers. Instead, they spread an ideology of hate, segregation, exclusion and self-exclusion, and indiscriminate violence. They misuse Islam and exploit the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of other detainees to try to transform them into potential time-bombs and kamikazes once they are released, as the Islamic State propaganda teaches and preaches online.

Guards in prisons say that the profile of prison populations have changed. While in the past gang leaders were imposing their rule on other prisoners, Muslim criminals have now taken their place and force others to abide by their religious norms. In some prisons, Muslims are in the majority and as a dominant group, impose their rule. In a TV program, a former prisoner testified that he had been under pressure not to be naked while taking a shower. Another prisoner said they were told they would have to join the group if they want to safely use the prison yard.

Which solution? To isolate radicalisers?

Prison guards admit that it is difficult to identify signs of radicalisation of prisoners who were originally mainline Muslims or who were not Muslim. The rule of law in democratic societies prohibits the ‘monitoring’ of the conversations between prisoners. Moreover, many detainees speak Arabic or other foreign languages amongst themselves. Sudden intensive practice of Muslim rituals (prayers five times a day, observing Ramadan, and so on) may cause the raising of guards’ eyebrows but this is questionable.

Some propose to strictly isolate radicalising and radicalised prisoners so that they cannot communicate with each other and infect other potential victims, but this method has a price. Building more prisons takes time and money. Building one cell in the prison of Haren (Flanders) costs 1 million EUR. The accommodation of one detainee costs the state and society 170 EUR per day.  Are the tax-payers ready to finance specific and costly detention facilities for such prisoners?

New threats in the near future

Returnees from the battlefields of Iraq, Syria, and other conflicts are perceived as potential threats for the security of populations in Europe, but there is another threat that is rarely discussed: the release of prisoners who have been radicalised during their detention. In France, 450 radicalised prisoners will be released next year at the end of their term. In Belgium, it is estimated that 28 radicalised prisoners will be freed this year. When Benjamin Herman was granted some freedom, we saw what happened. What will the next released individuals do?

Some conclusions

Prisons have become places of recruitment and training of future ‘soldiers’ at the service of a deadly ideology, but other sectors of our democratic and open societies have also been infiltrated by this ideology (internet, social media, schools…). The problem of Islamism must be tackled upstream and not downstream. This ideology must be treated with the appropriate antibiotics and vaccinations; however, the medicines have yet to be created.

 

 

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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/womens-rights-gender-equality/

List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/