Morocco changes tack in anti-terrorism policy

Sun Jul 5, 2009 12:44pm GMT
 

By Tom Pfeiffer

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

As militants reach a growing audience through DVDs and the Internet, the government has tried to seize back the initiative, revising laws governing mosques and adding new theological councils to tighten control of religious life in the regions.

Now it is preparing to send 1,500 supervisors into the north African country's towns and villages to make sure that imams are preaching the moderate local version of Islam and respect for King Mohammed in his role as leader of Morocco's Muslims.

Suicide bombings in May 2003 killed 45 people and tarnished a reputation for stability that helped staunch U.S. ally Morocco draw growing numbers of tourists and record foreign investment.

An anxious security sweep saw the closure of unregulated mosques and the arrest of more than 3,000 people on terrorism-related charges.

"The security services may have been badly prepared, which explains why we arrested thousands of people," said Moroccan political analyst Mohamed Darif. "They have now begun to master the situation and no longer arrest just anyone."

Around a third of those rounded up since 2003 remain in prison and Islamist advocacy groups say many are held on flimsy evidence after being forced to sign false confessions, something the government denies.

Security experts say the authorities have a better grip on the situation after building up a database of potentially dangerous Islamists and managing to infiltrate some networks to ward off attacks before they happen.   Continued...

<p>Three suspects arrive at the court room in Sale near Rabat March 2, 2007. Morocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante</p>
 
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