The Libya crisis and the Islamic State terror organisation pose direct threats to Maghreb stability, security analyst Mohamed Chakir warns.
Magharebia visits him in Casablanca to learn more about how the two issues are linked.
Magharebia: ISIS last week claimed an attack in Tripoli. What does the Libya situation mean for the Maghreb and Africa?
Mohamed Chakir: The turmoil in Libya has greatly affected the Maghreb, especially Egypt and Tunisia. It has also affected some Sahel countries, particularly Chad, Mali and Niger….
Weapons left behind by the Kadhafi regime have helped create terrorist groups … Groups and gangs that swore allegiance to al-Qaeda or ISIS are now terrorising the entire region and turning it into a fireball, thus negatively affecting the stability of the already volatile Maghreb.
Magharebia: Are all Maghreb countries in the same situation?
Chakir: This instability in Libya has indirectly affected Tunisia, which is trying hard to realise security on its soil….Algeria enjoys relative stability, given that its experience in the 1990s makes local forces thwart any attempt to destabilise the country. As to Morocco, it dealt with the consequences of political turmoil by introducing a package of constitutional amendments and reforms…
I think stability in Algeria and Morocco, and the relative stability of Tunisia, has given some sort of balance to the Arab region. We know that Algeria and Morocco are the two main pillars in the Arab Maghreb region and in my opinion, as long as the two countries are stable, we can say that the Maghreb region hasn’t been greatly affected and hasn’t witnessed that strong quake that rocked the Middle East.
Just look at the unstable Iraq and Syria, where the absence of the state has given ISIS the chance to seize control over large parts of land in the two countries – something that greatly threatens the entire Middle East.
Magharebia: Does this mean that the Maghreb is immune to the Daesh threat?
Chakir: Maghreb countries must be united against ISIS terrorism. Given the stability of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania, the threat is now restricted to the security chaos in Libya.
I believe that if the situation in Libya can be controlled, the threat will decline and Maghreb will preserve its stability…
This doesn’t mean that these countries won’t suffer from the fallout of terrorism, especially the effect of the open battlefields of wars against al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Magharebia: How is Daesh able to recruit young people from our region?
Chakir: I think Maghreb youths in general have been affected by the preaching campaigns that ISIS is implementing.
I think the challenges that Maghreb regimes are now facing are how to restrict this huge influx of rebellious young people into Syria and Iraq…and how to contain the terrorist threat and prevent its effects on Maghreb, through carefully-planned security strategies, strong intelligence co-ordination and effective pre-emptive strikes.
Magharebia: What do you mean by better Maghreb co-ordination to confront the Islamic State threat?
Chakir: ISIS has shown great capabilities in recruiting Maghreb youths who live thousands of kilometres away from ISIS-controlled areas. It has also demonstrated its abilities to recruit Maghreb youths in Europe to carry out terrorist operations even outside land controlled by it, like what happened in France and some other European countries.
This is perhaps the biggest challenge facing Maghreb regimes, namely to paralyse and contain ISIS and prevent it from recruiting youths who the group looks at as the cannon fodder that will make it even stronger and brighter.
To realise this goal, I think there must be strong intelligence co-ordination among Maghreb regimes. Security is much more important than any differences.
In my opinion, if these countries managed to overcome their political differences and had intelligence co-ordination, they could weaken and contain the terrorist threat, especially that of al-Qaeda and ISIS. This will contribute to the consolidation of stability and security in the Maghreb.
Magharebia: As a Moroccan, what can you tell us about how your country is dealing with the Daesh threat?
Chakir: Morocco is one of the most stable countries in the Maghreb, in terms of security. Morocco has been immensely effective in dealing strong pre-emptive strikes – dismantling many terrorist cells, including some that were waiting for the green light to carry out operations in the kingdom…
If some of these cells had reached the phase of execution, the situation could have been catastrophic.
The state has been cracking down on suspected Salafists and arresting those involved in travelling to join ISIS, even after they return…
Morocco is now focusing on striking terrorists in their own strongholds by surprising them and foiling their plans. Morocco has suffered from terrorism and doesn’t want to give any chance for a repetition of its bitter experience.
Magharebia: What else can we do now to confront the danger?
Chakir: Security hinges on close co-operation between all Maghreb countries in terms of intelligence.
The intelligence tool is effective in confronting terrorist groups, especially ISIS.
Interview by Mohamed Saadouni.