Countering terror in Africa: What we can learn from Morocco

Countering terror in Africa: What we can learn from Morocco
Kieran Baker

The rise of terrorism in Africa, particularly across the expanse of the Sahel region, has thrown a spotlight on Morocco’s role in the fight against violent extremism. In contrast to counterterrorism strategies pursued by many other countries, Morocco's approach isn't solely focused on bolstering security measures. It delves into the complex roots of terrorism and tackles them through a strategy that weaves together social, economic, religious, and legal strands. 

This “whole of society approach” has its genesis in the devastating 2003 Casablanca bombings, a stark reminder of Morocco's vulnerability. The attacks served as a catalyst for an overhaul of the country's counterterrorism framework. While legal reforms were implemented to strengthen threat response, Morocco recognized that addressing the root causes of extremism was equally important. The state launched the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), a commitment to supporting and empowering vulnerable populations by improving educational and economic opportunities. This proactive approach aimed to cut off the oxygen that fuels extremist ideologies.

Education is another pillar of Morocco's strategy. The Kingdom actively promotes a tolerant and inclusive interpretation of Islam through institutions like the Mohammed VI Institute. This forward-thinking institute trains Imams, including women, to effectively counter extremist narratives. The institute's progressive approach, particularly its inclusion of women, has been lauded by the United Nations Office for Counter Terrorism as a best practice in the Arab world.

Morocco understands that a robust security apparatus is vital. The state established the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, modeled after the U.S.'s FBI, to coordinate counterterrorism efforts across agencies. This centralized approach enables seamless information sharing and a swift, unified response to potential threats.

Recognizing that terrorism can be a transnational menace, Morocco actively participates in international efforts. The country has co-chaired the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing among nations. Additionally, Morocco collaborates with the U.S. to address foreign terrorists and to enhance border security. This cooperation strengthens Morocco's own defenses while contributing to a more secure global landscape.

The challenge of Moroccan citizens joining extremist groups abroad presents another facet. Morocco has implemented programs to prevent recruitment and manage the potential threat posed by those who return. These programs focus on deradicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society.

Morocco's multidimensional approach to counterterrorism has yielded significant success. The United Nations credits them with dismantling over 200 terrorist cells and preventing over 300 attacks in the past two decades. This impressive track record has positioned Morocco as a regional leader in counterterrorism, with other African countries seeking the Kingdom’s expertise to keep their populations safe from extremism. It shouldn’t end there; countries outside the region could also learn from Morocco’s innovative “whole of society” approach to countering terror.


Kieran Baker is an Emmy award winning journalist who has started up various networks including Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg TV Africa and TRT World. 

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