Rabat — As many as 3,000 jihadists of Moroccan origin could be fighting in Syria and Iraq, Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad told MPs on Tuesday (July 15th).
"A total of 1,122 Moroccans are affiliated with terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria, alongside other European nationals of Moroccan origin whose number is estimated at 2, 000," AFP quoted the interior minister as saying.
Of the 1,122 jihadists, 200 have died, including 20 in suicide attacks. The 128 who returned to Morocco have been arrested and interrogated.
This is because the security services suspect them of planning terrorist attacks back home. According to the interior minister, several Moroccan terror leaders in Syria have said that they intended to carry out an attack against the kingdom.
The names of these leaders and the Moroccan fighters are well known to the security services, the government official said. Five of them hold senior positions in the ISIS terror group, he added.
The minister said that these terrorist groups and those operating in North Africa are co-ordinating their activities. The most worrying thing, he said, is the possibility that jihadists who are European citizens may enter Morocco without difficulty to carry out their plans.
Hassad underlined that a strategy was put in place to thwart all security threats. "In addition, this strategy has made it possible to dismantle several terrorist cells which were planning to carry out attacks in Morocco," he pointed out.
He stressed that the security forces only intervene to arrest terrorist gangs where there is evidence and when their plans are in the process of being prepared.
The minister underlined that due to the increased threats, Morocco has stepped up its vigilance and boosted surveillance at ports and airports and along the border with Algeria.
The MPs expressed confidence in the security forces and called for surveillance and monitoring to be intensified. Some called for the adoption of a comprehensive strategy based not only on security but also on social efforts.
Abdellah Sghiri, an MP from the Justice and Development Party, highlighted the role of schools, universities, families and ulema in tackling fundamentalism.
The leader of the Constitutional Union group, Chaoui Belassel, expressed a similar view and said that although the role of the security services was vital, public awareness should not be neglected.
"In this regard, families and schools have a big responsibility and they must play a significant part in this," he added.
Political analyst Jamal Farhani told Magharebia that Morocco was not the only country affected by security threats and that several countries have stepped up their vigilance in order to combat terrorism. He said that the sharing of intelligence between countries was the only way of preventing deadly attacks.
"Rapid access to intelligence is the only effective weapon against the growing threats to security," Farhani added.
The public mood is calm despite the July 10th announcement by Communications Minister Mustapha El Khalfi that Morocco was seriously threatened by terrorist plots.
Laila Chalmi, an accountant, said that law enforcement agencies have been proactive so far and there is no point in panicking.
"I hope that the mobilisation will be maintained until the very end in order to combat terrorist operations. At the same time, we need to find other solutions to prevent our young people from leaving to fight in Iraq and Syria," she said.