From Terror to Counterterror in North Africa

FEZ – Over the past several months, an encouraging trend has begun to emerge in North Africa: the number of jihadi recruits for Daesh (the pejorative Arabic acronym for the “Islamic State”), particularly from Morocco, has begun to diminish, owing largely to the implementation of rigorous security measures. But, if the threat is to be eliminated entirely, much more work needs to be done.

The recent downward trend follows an alarming spike in recruitment by Daesh from the region. In June 2014, a staggering 1,193 Moroccans were reportedly fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to the General Director of Studies and Documentation (DGED) Mohamed Yassine El Mansouri. An April 2015 report by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee revealed that Moroccans and Tunisians constitute the largest foreign contingent of jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

A key component of Daesh’s appeal is economic. A jihadist earns, on average, $1,400 per month – a substantial sum for young men, often from poor families, who are unemployed or doing odd jobs at home for some $150 a month. Given that many Moroccan jihadists have only a primary-level education, with only 10% holding a university degree, opportunities for economic advancement at home seem limited. Of course, there are also personal factors, though religion seems to come second to visions of adventure and bravery in battle.

Whether to become a “hero” or to make money, 30 Moroccans, on average, have joined Daesh each month since the Syrian civil war began. But now the rate has slowed considerably. According to the Moroccan North Observatory of Human Rights, only 16 Moroccan jihadists traveled to Syria and Iraq in the first six months of this year.