di Stefano Piazza- Luciano Tirinnanzi ( traduzione Carol Simonetti)
It is 2:00 am in Béziers, a placid French region of Occitanie. It is April 4th, 2021. A black van arrives in the working-class district of La Devèze, from which four hooded men get off. They are the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure (DGSI) on an anti-terrorism mission’s agents. They break down the door of an apartment in search of an 18-year-old, identified as “Leila B”. She is in her room, where unequivocal posters stand out on the walls: diagrams on how to make explosives, some passages from the Koran that incite jihad, the Twin Towers in flames. And again swastikas, the drawing of a Nazi soldier and an ISIS executioner holding a decapitated head in his hand.
The agents also find photos of Samuel Paty’s beheaded body, the professor “executed” in Paris last October by a Chechen terrorist. And a diary where the girl has noted: “I like to see people who are beheaded, I like to see people who suffer, people who cut off heads, I like death.”
Investigators have the confirmation they were looking for: Leila B is a terrorist and she has planned an imminent attack. She wanted to blow herself up on Easter Sunday inside a church in Montpellier, but intelligence prevented it just on time. Is it all thanks to the Paris investigators? Not at all: the success belongs to the secret services of Morocco, which participated in a joint operation thanks to its elite body, the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DGST).
In Europe, there is too little talk of the effort made by Morocco to combat Islamist terrorism. However, Rabat has been playing a crucial role in international counter-terrorism for years, to such an extent that the FBI itself and even the CIA recognize commitment and results: “We are grateful for the leadership and the high level of professionalism of the DGSI, in the context of joint security efforts, including those deployed in the fight against terrorism and extremist groups”, it is declared from Langley, headquarters of the Agency.
New York section of the FBI head’s words echoed, who expressed his deep gratitude for “the specific information promptly provided that contributed to the neutralization of the terrorist danger”. The reference is no longer to Béziers, the latest in a series of “completed missions” to be pinned to the chest. But to the fruitful information exchange activity.
Morocco’s effort in this direction had already begun after the attacks of September 11th, when the country unambiguously sided with the West; this commitment then continued with the Casablanca attacks (May 11th, 2003) until the identification of the perpetrators of two young European students’ beheading, the Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and her Norwegian friend Maren Ueland, killed in 2018 in the surroundings of Marrakesh. A horrendous crime, for which Abdessamad Ejjoud, head of a confessed jihadist group, and Younes Ouaziyad, who had filmed the beheading scene, were brought to justice and sentenced to death. That operation resulted in the dismantling of an entire cell: about twenty terrorists, including a Genevan converted to Islam.
“International cooperation in the fight against terrorism is one of the multidimensional and most comprehensive approaches of Morocco’s strategy, especially with major partners such as the United States, France, and Spain. The relationship with the US, in particular, is strong in the intelligence sectors, where the North African country collects information and the American intelligence provides training and technical assistance for the national police and the royal gendarmerie “says Maha Ghazi, a Moroccan researcher on issues of extremism in the region. “Morocco is also active in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and played an important role in the global coalition that defeated ISIS.”
This explains how the country was able to become the main American referent for the control of the African and European jihad: the government of His Majesty Mohammed VI has signed with Washington a series of programs for the prevention of extremism and education in society, such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and has defined a framework of commitments with NATO: Rabat has supported the Atlantic Alliance since 2016, acting as an “antenna” for the Mediterranean policies and for monitoring illegal trafficking in the area (from drug smuggling to arms and human trafficking). In return, it also receives armaments: last year, for example, it signed a 240-million-dollar agreement for the supply of heavy vehicles.
It is also taking on this role of bulwark that Morocco emerges as the most advanced state in Africa: “Together with the leaders of Algeria and Tunisia, these governments have pursued a common path of modernization, regardless of the form of state”, the researcher of the Cattolica of Milan, Majda Mehrar, writes. “This political strategy was mainly aimed at neutralizing the Islamist movements and avoiding the spread of extremist messages.” And it has worked well, considering that currently in Moroccan prisons, of the more than 86,000 inmates in total, only 900 are serving terrorism-related crimes (only 21 new entrants last year).
The stability built over time by the Kingdom of Morocco, and the same lineage of King Mohammed – which can be traced back directly to the Prophet Mohammed – have therefore safeguarded the North African country from upheavals and internal wars connected to radical Islam. The same cannot be said for the neighbouring Algeria, which throughout the 1990s, fought local groups such as the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) and the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), which aimed to overthrow the national government to impose Sharia law. It is known that Morocco and Algeria are still competing today for dominion over Western Sahara, a crucial territory where the independence aspirations of the Saharawi people are stirred up; but this did not produce guerrillas on the model of Mali and Mauritania. On the contrary, it has strengthened a rather secular and statist institutional culture of French-speaking derivation, but with Anglo-Saxon influences. This allows us to continue investing on both sides of the Atlantic in what is considered to be the most reliable interlocutor in North Africa.