Casablanca — Belgian security services just caught the alleged mastermind of a network that recruited Moroccan and Spanish youths to fight for al-Qaeda in Syria.
Sought on an international arrest warrant, Moroccan national Ismail Abdellatif Allal "was the ringleader of an active network which radicalised, recruited and sent jihadists to terrorist groups operating in Syria", the Spanish interior ministry said after the Thursday (September 26th) capture.
"The network, which took orders from al-Qaeda command, had two bases, one in Sebta and the other in Fnideq," Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz said.
The latest arrest comes just weeks after Spanish security forces apprehended Moroccans Mohamed El Bal and Yassine Ahmed Labri (aka "Pistu"). The two men also stand accused of recruiting young jihadists on al-Qaeda's behalf.
Stéphane Halloui, an expert on Morocco-EU relations, told Magharebia that the involvement of overseas Moroccans in terrorism was a worrisome phenomenon.
"On the one hand, there is a minority who are ignorant of the essence of the Islamic faith, and on the other hand, there is this search for an identity which supposedly offers an alternative that enables these young Moroccan expats to belong to a group," Halloui said.
He added that many Moroccan expatriates experience social failure: "For different reasons, many of them are completely lost between their countries of residence and their countries of origin."
Halloui concluded that the radicalisation of overseas Moroccans now represents a huge challenge "for both Moroccan and European officials, which they must handle with a great deal of courage and adaptability".
As the number of jihadists of Moroccan origin rises, many observers are sounding the alarm.
Moussa Al Mouritani, a journalist who specialises in Islamist movements, said that the phenomenon now poses a real danger to both Europe and the kingdom.
"There are over 100 jihadists who belong to the three main armed opposition movements in Syria: the salafist group Kataib Ahrar Al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is close to al-Qaeda, and the sprawling Free Syrian Army," he underlined. He added that Latakia region is the stronghold of the Moroccan jihadists in Syria.
Al Mouritani cited the case of Brahim Benchekroune, alias Abu Ahmed Al Mouhajir, who created Sham al-Islam, a militia made up entirely of Moroccan fighters.
Then there is Mohamed Alami Slimani, alias Abu Hamza Al Maghrebi, who joined Kataib Ahrar Al-Sham and later Benchekroune's group before being killed in August.
Allal's arrest is just one sign of growing security co-operation between Morocco and European states. On Friday (September 27th), Morocco and Spain signed an agreement between the Spanish Military Emergencies Unit (UME) and the Royal Armed Forces which is intended to boost military co-operation between the two parties.