By Imrane Binoual
Proponents of Salafist ideology are finding new ways to spread their message on the internet.
Jihadist ideology can be found on many websites popular with young people. While analysts point to recent events in the Arab Spring as evidence of the decline of al-Qaeda, not a week goes by without new extremist videos being posted on the internet.
With modern technology, al-Qaeda’s violent beliefs can reach into homes across the Maghreb and into the hands of impressionable youth, circumventing traditional forms of religious information. These images reinforce jihadist dogma and often serve as an effective and low-cost way of recruiting new followers.
This is a startling reality in Morocco and the other countries of the Maghreb, according to Mountassir Hamada, the author of Nous et l’organisation d’Al Qaida (Al-Qaeda and Us) and De la critique de l’organisation al-Qaida (A Critique of al-Qaeda).
“The internet has become one of the main methods of recruitment for the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),” Hamada says. “The main reason is the vast space for browsing, expression and interaction that the internet offers. This enables leaders to convey messages that can help them to recruit.”
“These messages are based in particular on jihadist Salafist ideology. This ideology, in turn, is based on the ideological radicalism and beliefs that characterise the Wahhabi Salafist movement,” he explains.
According to Hamada, the unrest across the Arab world is “leading to an increase in attempts to persuade people to join” terrorist groups.
In addition to these external factors, he also draws attention to the lack of doctrinal knowledge among recruits, who often come from impoverished backgrounds.
Abdelhakime Abou Louz, a researcher who specialises in Salafist movements, says that web-based communication can be the ideal tool for al-Qaeda to recruit followers all over the world.
“This tool does not require very advanced know-how. It’s a channel that only requires the ability to use the internet, which can easily be learned within a couple of days. In addition, Al-Qaeda’s websites facilitate direct contact between the organisation’s leaders and future recruits.”
With regard to Morocco, however, Abou Louz takes a slightly different view. “As far as contact between Moroccans and al-Qaeda is concerned, this occurs not via internet but rather through trips made by Moroccans to Afghanistan, Chechnya and areas where there have been conflicts between Muslims and the West,” he claims.
He cites the examples of the “Afghan Moroccans” such as Oualid Abou Hafs and Hassan Chadili. “They came into contact with jihadist ideology by passing through the gateway to the East and were not necessarily trained by al-Qaeda online,” he says.
To illustrate this point, he asserts that in order to understand the organisation, a distinction must be made between two schools of thought.
“One is the call to jihad all over the world,” he says. “The second is that holy war can only be waged against non-Muslims.”
Having explained this, he said that Moroccan jihadists espouse the doctrine that jihad should be waged outside the Muslim world. Abou Louz claims that the 2003 Casablanca terror attacks were an exception.
“In 2003 there was a small group that was trained, used the internet and perpetrated criminal acts. We must not generalise because of this,” he says.
He adds that Moroccans are very active on jihadist websites and many of them use pseudonyms or the names of their children (such as Abou Salma and Abou Mossaab). They are spreading jihadist ideology without revealing their real names while still making a contribution to the movement online.
The question that must be asked, Abou Louz says, is whether they are actually implementing the propaganda they spread. His answer is that they are not.
“I believe they are merely focusing on doctrine, because it is difficult to argue that jihadist ideology has really taken root in Morocco. This is demonstrated by the fact that of those who were jailed for the terrorist attacks of May 2003, only 4% had been influenced via internet by jihadist Salafist ideology and Al-Qaeda ideology, whereas 96% had never visited jihadist websites,” he explains.
In his view, most Moroccans focus on the doctrine posted on these websites and discussions about concepts without going any further.
“Those who wage jihad actively on the basis of these ideas still form a tiny minority,” Abou Louz says.