Terrorism is a “scourge” which has neither “nationality nor religion” and Morocco has opted to fight it by means of a “multidimensional” strategy, intervening both on the religious side and by prioritizing economic development as a way of combatting poverty and social instability, because “by focusing on security alone it is not possible to combat what drives young people to become radicalized.” These are the words of Abdelhak Khiame, Director of the Central Office of Judicial Investigations and Head of Counterterrorism, taken from a lengthy interview given to La Presse, in which he explains why, in his view, the Moroccan counterterrorism approach should be taken as an inspirational model.
In the tight security of counterterrorism headquarters in Salé, on the banks of the river Bou Regreg which separates Salé from the capital Rabat, Khaime underlines just how fundamental international cooperation is: “Morocco has always reached out to all our European partners”, contributing to the prevention of terror attacks. Relations between Italy and Morocco are “excellent”, but still need to be further strengthened given the risks of terrorism. He goes on to offer some reassurance: “If we unite our efforts, we will manage to stem this scourge, it will take some time, but believe me, one day we will succeed in curbing it.”
Q: It is possible to say that Morocco has been spared the kind of major terror attacks that have occurred in other countries. What is the main reason for this?
A: What is the secret of our success against this scourge? That is an extremely important question. After the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001, Morocco promised the coalition its commitment to fighting the scourge of terrorism: at the time that was Al-Qaeda, subsequently Daesh. Under the enlightened leadership of His Majesty the King, Morocco has adopted a multidimensional, predictive strategy, which not only encompasses a security approach but also involves the religious and socio-economic spheres. Furthermore, a long process of restructuring and modernization was undertaken to bring security agencies up to date, culminating with the creation of this Bureau in 2015.
Q: Can you explain this strategy in more depth?
A: We realized that by focusing on security alone it is not possible to combat what drives young people to become radicalized. It is necessary to fight those factors which lead to radicalism and the radicalization of the young, which is why great efforts have been made in the sphere of religion: we have the High Council of Ulema which has exclusive control of all mosques and is responsible for the training of imams. Preaching cannot take place in mosques without the say-so of the High Council of Ulema, which has absolute control of what happens in the mosques. What’s more, we have fought poverty and social instability with economic development schemes. As I have already said and will keep on saying: terrorism has neither nationality nor religion.
Q: You cooperate with European countries. How are relations between the two sides of the Mediterranean in terms of counterterrorism?
A: Morocco is currently the co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, GCTF, together with Holland. Ever since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, Morocco has been fully committed, alongside its allies, to fighting this scourge which is completely alien to Moroccan traditions. As a result, Morocco and the Moroccan Intelligence services have accumulated a high degree of professionalism and know-how, which they share with their European partners. The proof of this lies in the fact that Morocco has always reached out to all our European partners and has also been behind the successful foiling of various terror plots which had been planned for different western countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Belgium. I believe that this professionalism has enhanced the standing of the Moroccan security services, who constantly receive requests [for help] from their European counterparts.
Q: And what about with Italy?
A: Information flows well between the Moroccan and Italian intelligence services, we share experiences. Relations are excellent; we know full well that there is a strong Moroccan community living in Italy, so it is quite normal that this should be a channel for the exchange of information between the Italian and Moroccan agencies. Moroccan relations with the Italians are undoubtedly excellent, but we must strengthen them yet further given the risks posed by a terrorist threat which affects everyone.
Q: Is there a precise counterterror goal with a specific deadline?
A: I can summarize it thus: the Moroccan model has borne fruit, especially in terms of organization in the religious sphere. A Muslim minority live in Italy, but not only in Italy. I think that by taking inspiration from the Moroccan model things will go well.
Q: Does taking inspiration from the Moroccan model mean controlling?
A: I wouldn’t say controlling exactly, because it is not possible to control the faithful in places of worship, but checking the type of discourse that takes place in those places of worship. You have a Muslim community, a Jewish community, a Christian community – all these places must be well organized; free rein must not be afforded to extremists who make violent speeches in unauthorized spaces, such as garages. It is necessary to show an interest in this community living in your country, by putting places of worship at their disposal and checking the preaching and speeches which take place on these sites, not by controlling the faithful who go there. What I can add is that the fight against terrorism will take a long time, but if we unite our efforts, with composure and respect, we will stem this scourge, it will take some time, but believe me one day we will succeed in curbing it.