Morocco is offering to train imams who preach in mosques across Europe in an effort to encourage the spread of its moderate Malki doctrine and pre-empt the radicalisation of Muslim minorities living on the continent.
Young Moroccans who grew up in Europe have been at the centre of some of the most high-profile atrocities claimed by Isis, including the Paris attacks in November 2015 and the Brussels airport bombings four months later.
Moroccan youths believed to have been radicalised by Abdelbaki al Satti, a hard line Moroccan imam in Spain, were behind the killing in August of 16 people in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas boulevard when one of them drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians.
”We have realised the absence of a religious formation according to the tolerant Moroccan Malki school,” said Abdelhak Khiame, Morocco’s counter terrorism chief. He suggested training “the imams in western countries according to the Malki doctrine. We have imams here . . . who will be in charge of training these imams regardless of their nationalities”.
Mr Khiame, whose agency, the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations, has been responsible for the dismantling of some 42 Isis-linked cells in the country in the past two years, told the Financial Times that without an “institutionalised process” to vet the discourse and credentials of imams in Europe “terrorist organisations will exploit the vacuum”.
“The practice of religion should be institutionalised in all countries and by this I meant there should be institutions which take an interest in monitoring religious discourse in mosques,” said Mr Khiame. “Here in Morocco there is a religious scholars council tasked with supervising sermons and unifying fatwas [religious rulings]. It is not possible for any imam to preach his sermon without it being reviewed by the council to see if it conforms to tolerant Islamic precepts and is not hard line.”
Speaking in his headquarters in Sale near Rabat, the Moroccan capital, Mr Khiame said Moroccan intelligence shared with European countries had already prevented terrorist attacks in France, Spain, Italy, Holland and Denmark.
Mr Khiame said his bureau was launching a new strategy to monitor individuals of Moroccan origin living in Europe who have been radicalised.
“What happened in Spain and in other European countries has made us change our strategy even for those who are of Moroccan origins but were born in the west,” he said. “To further confront this new phenomenon we have to try to follow those people. The kingdom and all other countries which have subjects in western countries have to develop new strategies and new measures to follow their people.”
Despite the involvement of Moroccans in jihadi violence in the west, and the large number of Moroccans who became foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq — 1,664 according to Mr Khiame — there have been no significant attacks in the kingdom since before the rise of Isis. The last was the bombing of a tourist restaurant in Marrakesh in 2011 that killed 17 people.
Many of the cells uncovered by the security services were primarily involved in recruiting fighters for Isis. But Mr Khiame says some had amassed weapons and were plotting violence against domestic and foreign targets in the kingdom.
Analysts say jihadis have found it hard to operate in Morocco as a result of beefed up security since 2003 when 12 suicide bombers blew themselves up at multiple locations in Casablanca, the economic hub of the kingdom, killing 33 people.
Mr Khiame is adamant that one reason for Morocco’s relative security is its efforts to promote tolerant interpretations of Islam according to the Maliki school of Islamic law which is widely followed in north Africa. But asked why this has not stopped the emergence of dozens of extremist cells and the flow of Moroccan foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, he said the main reason was the internet. “Unfortunately there are poorly educated youth who cannot distinguish between right and wrong and are easily drawn through the internet by the leaders of these terrorist organisations,” he said.
Get alerts on Islam when a new story is published