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Morocco: Signs of Increased Militant Activity in the Maghreb

4 MINS READMar 16, 2007 | 17:24 GMT
Moroccan authorities said March 15 they have made two significant discoveries related to the March 10 bombing at an Internet cafe in Casablanca. Police detained 18 individuals after the bombing and uncovered a cache of explosives at the home of the two bombers. These discoveries shed some light on the scope and potential potency of the bombers' plot. Taken together with an incident in Algeria, they also highlight an increase in jihadist activity in the Maghreb. The 18 arrests, made in Casablanca's slums, include just about anyone connected to the two bombers. Authorities often haul in large numbers of suspects, hoping that at least a few of them will have actually been involved in the plot. The arrests and raids on the homes of the bombers and their associates likely will yield valuable intelligence, such as scraps of paper with accomplices' names and addresses on them, cell phones, address books, call logs or possibly a personal computer with a hard drive full of information. Any of this could lead investigators to other cells or plots. The day before the Moroccan arrests, two suspected members of an Algerian jihadist group were killed when a roadside bomb they were planting in Boumerdes province, approximately 30 miles from the capital of Algiers, exploded prematurely. Had the attack been successful, it would have been the fourth in as many months. On Dec. 10, 2006, a bus carrying employees of Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root Condor and Algerian oil company Sonatrach was hit by a roadside bomb. On Feb. 13, four police stations in Algeria's Kabylie region were attacked with car bombs, and foreign oil workers and security forces in Algeria were attacked by militants over a two-day period in March. These bombings, the botched Algerian bombing and the plot uncovered at the Internet cafe in Casablanca, along with other raids and arrests in both countries, show that the militants' operational tempo is increasing. This increase has been going on since October 2006, shortly after al Qaeda joined forces with militant groups in the Maghreb. The militants in the Maghreb are making amateurish mistakes, including practicing poor operational security and not compartmentalizing their cells (as evidenced by the frequent raids and arrests in Morocco and Algeria). The use of the same Internet cafe to look up jihadist Web sites and research potential targets for suicide bombings is also an example of the militants' sloppy tradecraft, as is the premature detonation of the roadside bomb in Algeria. The Moroccan and Algerian governments are taking the jihadist threat in their cities and rural areas very seriously. They have been cooperating with Western governments such as the United States, Spain, France and Italy in sharing intelligence and making arrests in an effort to prevent the jihadists from having free rein in their countries. So far, the militant activity in the Maghreb is characterized by three things: an increased operational tempo, stupid mistakes and relatively small operations. (They are choosing targets like vehicles and police stations, rather than hotels or embassies.) The last two traits could change over time, however. The Maghreb militants are benefiting from veteran jihadists of the Iraq war and support from al Qaeda. (The successful operations using roadside bombs in Algeria could be proof of a direct link to al Qaeda's operations in Iraq.) As the militants' knowledge base increases, there could be a repeat of the 2003 Casablanca bombings, but with better operational planning and execution because of the expertise of and guidance from a cadre of veteran jihadists. The militants in the Maghreb are showing a willingness to attack. If they can successfully incorporate knowledge and skills from al Qaeda and from Algerian and Moroccan jihadists returning home from Iraq, it could bode poorly for security in the region.

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