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Radicalism takes root in northern Morocco

09 August 2014
News about a Moroccan national who leads an Islamic State (ISIS) brigade in Syria is raising talk about Islamist jihadists in northern Morocco.

Mohamed Hamdouch, a 28-year-old jihadist who is also a member of the Islamic council of the organisation, appeared in a video cutting off the heads of five people.

Before fighting in Syria, he ran a clothing business in Fnideq and was recruiting jihadists from the area.

A fortnight ago, Moroccan security services also arrested a French jihadist in Tangier for seeking to recruit fighters and send them to organisations loyal to al-Qaeda.

Analysts say that northern Morocco has become a fertile breeding ground for radicalisation.

According to Human Rights Defence Association Chairman Lahbib Haji, the region is more conservative than elsewhere in Morocco.

"Furthermore, they are permanently in contact with Moroccans who have settled in Europe. That makes it easier to recruit them," the Tetouan barrister said.

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The cells recruit members from underprivileged areas, he noted.

Mediterranean Strategic Analysis and Intelligence Company head Mountacir Zian puts forward other factors to explain the phenomenon.

"The northern region has been neglected, if not completely forgotten, since independence," he said.

"What also sets the north apart from the interior of the kingdom is the lack of zawiyas, (brotherhoods), which are centres for spirituality," Zian said.

The zawiya enables "religion to be separated from politics," he added. "It is a place for debate, where people can devote themselves to all the spiritual practices. But that's completely lacking in the north," Zian explained.

Writer Abbassi Mustapha tells Magharebia: "For a long time we've been drawing people's attention to the existence of international fundamentalism in the northern region," he said.

Now, women, old and young, "are being radicalised and setting off for jihad to join their husbands", he commented.

He noted the ties between extremists and street crime.

"The facts show that radicals have always had connections with this easy money," he explained. "It's this money that allows them to set up cells. In fact, the jihadists who have been arrested have links with drug trafficking, car theft and all kinds of illegal activity."

"This is why the north has become fertile ground for the development of jihadist cells, particularly in Fnideq, Martil, Tetouan, Laarache and Tangier, to a lesser degree," he told Magharebia.

"The majority of these work in smuggling, have a history of drug trafficking, or are street vendors with connections to smuggling," the journalist said.

This pattern is now taking on an international dimension, he concluded.

© Magharebia.com 2014

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