New signs of increased activity from an emerging jihadist base in Morocco — leading to frustration with Europe’s lax anti-terror laws. From the New York Times, with thanks to Nicolei:
Morocco has been among the West’s closest Arab allies and has long been instrumental in pursuing Arab-Israeli reconciliation. Although Moroccan and European officials now agree that there is a new Moroccan threat, they disagree over its nature and origin — and how to contain it.
One problem is simply identifying major Moroccan terrorists. Two months after the Madrid train bombings, Spanish investigators believe that its mastermind may still be at large.
The French and Belgian police successfully dismantled Moroccan cells in their countries after the Madrid attacks, but they are convinced that other cells may have burrowed further underground.
Moroccan terrorists, intelligence and police experts say, know how to blend in.
“There are cells in which the Moroccans are well integrated into the population,” Pierre de Bousquet, the head of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, France’s counterintelligence service, said in an interview. “So they do not seem suspicious. They work. They have kids. They have fixed addresses. They pay the rent. The networks are dispersed throughout Europe and are very autonomous.”
In addition to uneven cooperation among law enforcement and intelligence agencies within Europe, there is the problem of tensions that have surfaced between European and Moroccan officials.
Although the two sides are working together to investigate the Madrid bombings, the Moroccans have complained that their pleas for help after the Casablanca attacks were largely ignored until terrorists struck the heart of Europe.
They also have expressed frustration that laws in many European countries are not tough enough.
In April a court in Hamburg, Germany, allowed a Moroccan who was the only person convicted in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States to leave prison pending a new trial.
Three weeks later a court in Rome acquitted 12 people, including 9 Moroccans, who were arrested in 2002 and accused of being associated with a terrorist organization.
“The Madrid bombings finally have forced the Europeans to make their investigations more serious and their cooperation quicker and more operational,” Gen. Hamidou Laanigri, Morocco’s chief of security, said in an interview. “But we are victims of laws and guarantees that protect the rights of individuals at the expense of cracking down against organized crime.”
Intelligence and law-enforcement officials in Spain, France and Belgium say that their Moroccan colleagues have refused to face the fact that Moroccans have banded into autonomous terror cells that can carry out attacks without outside organization, logistical support or money.