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U.S. report links Morocco’s dismantling terror cells to rising jihadist recruitment in Mali

The Washington Institute for Middle East Affairs has connected a series of arrests conducted by Moroccan authorities targeting terrorist cells within the kingdom to the increasing interest in recruiting fighters in Mali. 

In a report titled “The Islamic State is Making Progress in Africa,” the institute said that since early 2023, a string of arrests within Moroccan and Spanish jihadist networks has indicated a growing focus on recruiting foreign fighters in Mali.

The report enumerated Morocco’s efforts in combating terrorism. In January 2023, a joint Moroccan-Spanish counterterrorism operation dismantled cells in Shata and Almaeria, where individuals were aiding the Islamic State organization in recruiting individuals for fighting in Mali and facilitating their travel to the Sahel region.

Moroccan authorities dismantled Souk El Arbaa, Tetouan, and Al Hoceima cells in March 2023. In each case, suspects were seeking training in military camps affiliated with the Islamic State in Mali.

In October 2023, Moroccan authorities dismantled cells in Tangier, Tetouan, and Inezgane, uncovering a manuscript detailing methods of joining the Islamic State organization in the Sahel region.

The authorities dismantled recruitment and support cells in Tangier, Casablanca, Beni Mellal, and Inezgane in January 2024, which were sending fighters to the Sahel region.

In February 2024, a Moroccan citizen was arrested in Sale for communicating with Islamic State elements to facilitate his travel to the Sahel region.

The report revealed that in some cases, foreign suspects were not detected until they had begun fighting in local theaters, sometimes reaching multiple war zones before being apprehended. 

In November, four Moroccans alongside members of the Islamic State in Somalia were arrested in Almskad, a mountainous region within the separatist Puntland area. 

Three months later, two senior members of the Islamic State in Somalia, one Moroccan and one Syrian, were arrested in Ofin.

In addition to recruits, the report said that many foreign fighters had already joined the Islamic State in the Sahel region in previous years, heading southwest from other countries after the organization lost control of Sirte, Libya, and faced severe counterterrorism campaigns in Tunisia. 

While the flow of fighters to Africa is nowhere near what was seen in Syria over the past decade, even small-scale mobilizations can lead to carrying out terrorist activities in Western countries.


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