On July 7, Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa took an extraordinary measure by raising the terrorist alert level for the kingdom to “maximum.” According to information released by the ministry, the decision was made on the basis of “reliable intelligence” indicating that Morocco is the target of a “serious terrorist threat” (MAP, July 7). The past 12 months have witnessed a progressive increase in the number of political statements and terrorist plots targeting Morocco. The most recent group to publicly declare its discontent and issue a declaration of jihad against the government of King Mohammed VI was the newly constituted “Ansar al-Islam in the Muslim Desert, the Land of the Veiled Men” (Terrorism Focus, May 8; Terrorism Focus, July 3). The name itself, meaning “supporters of Islam,” follows a similar naming convention to that of the widely publicized Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and may be derived from the name of the former Kurdish Islamist group, Ansar al-Islam.
Ansar al-Islam in the Muslim Desert’s June 28 release expanded on the group’s first statement and contained a video, approximately 24 minutes long, which focused primarily on the relationship between the United States and Morocco. The video featured extensive footage from a 2002 press conference at the White House between President George W. Bush and King Mohammed VI (Echourouk el-Youmi, July 2). Furthermore, in a manner possibly modeled after al-Qaeda, the statement played on historical Muslim grievances—such as the re-conquest of Andalusia—as well as acknowledging current regional disputes by dismissing the nationalist aims of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which is pursing independence for the Moroccan-administered territory of Western Sahara (Echourouk el-Youmi, July 2).
Moroccan authorities are believed to have pinpointed the location where Ansar al-Islam in the Muslim Desert’s first video was filmed by analyzing the geography and foliage seen in the video. According to “informed sources,” the plants shown in the video are found only in a specific region of southeastern Mauritania (Assabah, June 4). It is not clear if the threats directed at the Moroccan government by Ansar al-Islam in the Muslim Desert are the reason for the decision to elevate the terrorist alert to its highest level; however, the shadowy group is not the only threat to the stability of the kingdom. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb poses an existential threat to Morocco and has demonstrated its capability to conduct attacks against high profile targets in neighboring Algeria.
Morocco is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in September, the first since 2002, and authorities are undoubtedly concerned about potential attempts to destabilize the government. A series of suicide bombings this spring served as a grisly reminder to residents of Casablanca of the horrors that a number of the kingdom’s citizens are willing to inflict upon others. According to a statement released by the Interior Ministry, security services have been ordered to undertake a “total mobilization,” and it was indicated that the current level of deployed security forces will double (MAP, July 7).