Crackdown Against Islamist Opposition in Morocco Intensifies

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 24

Moroccan security forces intensified operations last week against al-Adl wa al-Ihsane (Justice and Spirituality Association—JSA), the country’s largest opposition group, arresting scores more of its members in the towns of Bouarfa, Oujda and Nador in northeast Morocco. Mohammed al-Abadi, the JSA’s second-in-command, was among the detainees. Since the start of the crackdown in late May, over 500 members of the movement have been imprisoned over vague allegations that the group was plotting a violent campaign to overthrow the monarchy. This strategy would mark a drastic departure from its previous activities that emphasize peaceful resistance and a rejection of violence (http://www.aljamaa.com). In reality, however, it is likely that Moroccan authorities are targeting the group due to its growing popularity amidst the JSA’s initiation of its “Open Doors” campaign designed to reach out to ordinary Moroccans ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. As was the case during the first round of mass arrests in May, all of the detainees were released after just a few hours (al-Jazeera, June 15; Terrorism Focus, June 6).

Despite its moderate social and political reform program, the JSA is banned from formally participating in Moroccan politics because of its longstanding opposition to the monarchy. Some local reports allege that Moroccan security forces beat a number of JSA activists during the crackdown. A website hosted by leading JSA activist and critic of the regime Nadia Yassine, who is also the daughter of Sheikh Abdessalem Yassine, the JSA’s ideological leader (http://www.yassine.net), reports that Moroccan police broke into the home of a JSA member in the city of Zagura and proceeded to beat him and a number of the students he was tutoring for upcoming school exams. Police then arrested the teacher and allegedly looted the house and even stole the students’ bicycles (http://nadiayassine.net).

Meanwhile, Moroccan authorities prevented an organized demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice that same week staged by the family of jailed members of al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya (The Struggle for Pure Islam), a radical extremist group Rabat links to the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca and the March 2004 attacks in Madrid. Sala prison is home to scores of inmates linked to radical activities inside the kingdom. Jailed members of the group are reported to be on hunger strike in protest of severe prison conditions (al-Jazeera, June 16).

Although there is evidence disputing the group’s existence, Muhammed Fizazi, a radical preacher whom Moroccan authorities accuse of founding al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya, is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for his reported role in inspiring the militants who perpetrated the attacks in Casablanca and maintaining ties to al-Qaeda. Jailed militants linked to Fizazi, however, acknowledge their allegiance to groups such as Ahl Sunna wa al-Jamaa (People of the Sunna), another militant organization, leading many observers to believe that references to al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya are part of Rabat’s strategy to link all of the kingdom’s radical Islamists under one umbrella (Terrorism Monitor, May 19, 2005). No reports have surfaced linking Fizazi to the hunger strike, but he and other radical clerics did lead one hunger strike last year in a number of Morocco’s prisons (Terrorism Focus, October 31, 2005).

Moroccan prison authorities are notorious for employing extreme measures against jailed militants and other opponents of the regime, including moderate Islamists and democratic activists. Many observers believe that this strategy contributes to the radicalization of the regime’s moderate opponents, making them prime candidates for recruitment in militant organizations upon their release into the general public.