By Siham Ali
Moroccan authorities have dismantled dozens of terrorist cells since the 2003 Casablanca bombings, but the past month has seen a significant spike in reported apprehensions.
During the last fortnight, eight members of a new Ansar al-Sharia offshoot group were arrested for allegedly plotting attacks against government and tourist sites. Police also dismantled a separate cell that allegedly intended to carry out terrorist acts against public authorities.
These announcements have drawn a variety of reactions from members of the public. While most applaud the efforts of the security services, others are sceptical and want precise and transparent information about these arrests to be released.
Justice and Development Party (PJD) MP Abdelkrim Nemmaoui asked the Parliamentary Finance Commission on November 8th to set up a committee to investigate the 2003 attacks, underlining how important it was given the accusations levelled at the PJD.
As for the public, student Halima Chentoufi commented that the number of cells broken up in more than nine years raised a number of questions.
“We are left wondering whether Morocco is really affected by terrorism and harbours so many terrorist cells. This situation is worrying,” she said.
That view was shared by 24-year-old Mustapha Zahraoui. He said Morocco has always been shielded from terrorist and extremist ideology and is known for the tolerance and open-mindedness of its citizens. This, he said, makes it difficult to believe that the country can harbour so many sleeper cells.
“The announcements made by the Ministry of the Interior are surprising. The government needs to restore public trust and work on its communication,” he said.
Contrasting with this scepticism, several people interviewed by Magharebia praised the vigilance of the law enforcement agencies, which they believe has saved Morocco from many disasters.
Amina El Ouardani, a 25-year-old management assistant, said that if the authorities had not been vigilant, the country would have been held to ransom by extremists seeking to impose their way of thinking on an entire society known for its openness.
The public is divided over the dismantling of terrorist cells due to the lack of information, according to sociologist Maha Ganbouri. She said that people’s doubts were legitimate, but in her view, the rapid spread of radical thinking across the Muslim world must not be overlooked.
Factors such as unemployment and poverty make young people vulnerable to manipulation, she said. Ganbouri added that vigilance was essential, as society is changing at all levels, and recommended that children be taught the values of citizenship, respect for difference and acceptance of others from an early age.
Ordinary people are not aware of the dangers posed by the spread of extremism, political analyst Jamal Chahir said.
“Morocco has not been spared by this phenomenon, even if society generally appears to have been immunised against backward thinking. At the same time, however, it is true that the frequency with which cells are broken up is worrying and raises questions,” he argued.