Thursday, October 17, 2013

Recruiting Moroccans to al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb recently released a video attacking the Moroccan government, but Mohammad Masbah argues convincingly that it is more about recruitment than threats:
In the video, AQIM refrained from calling for attacks within Morocco, with its emir, Abdelmalek Droudkel (also known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud) calling on youth to “migrate to God and His Prophet instead of migrating by boat” (at minute 39), which appears to encourage youth to join AQIM instead of heading to Syria for jihad or even to Europe for jobs and better lives.
Estimates put the number of Moroccans fighting with the Syrian rebels between 200 and 700, including most prominently the leader of the Sham al-Islam movement, Brahim Benchekroun, who had been detained first in Guantanamo from 2002 until 2004 and later in Morocco from 2005 until 2011. Sham al-Islam, which rejects democracy and prioritizes fighting against the far enemy (the West) over the near enemy (Arab regimes), operates independently from al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra, and it consists mainly of Moroccan militants. This is the real future threat to Moroccan stability. An estimated 30 percent of the Moroccans fighting in Syria served time in jail under the Anti-Terrorism Law, and so have transformed from being purely ideological jihadists into actual combatants. Those who survive the civil war in Syria will return home with a wealth of combat expertise.
It’s no surprise that young ex-convicts who served time under the Anti-Terrorism Law are joining the jihad in Syria. Further radicalization in jails—from exposure to older leaders who had taken part in the Afghan and Chechen jihads—is one of the byproducts of the crackdown on suspected terrorists. Social and economic vulnerability—and the lack of support networks capable of providing post-prison rehabilitation—increase their feelings of exclusion and the appeal of joining the fight abroad.
This certainly makes sense as a tactic for al-Qaeda.  With over 30 million people, Morocco is populous for an Arab country, yet it actually seems underrepresented in salafi-jihadist ranks despite have many of the same problems as those further east.  I'd actually be interested in seeing this explored more fully.   Am I simply wrong about Moroccans' relative numbers in these organizations?  If I'm not, does the reason lie in a lack of local conflicts and a preference for seeking work in Europe instead of Saudi Arabia?

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