Monday, May 2, 2011

The Background Of The Marrakesh Explosion

By Mohammad el-Ashab
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 01/05/2011

The Arab revolutions did not rule out the concern about terrorist attacks. The incident that the red Moroccan city of Marrakesh went through carried the color of blood as well as the shouts condemning terrorist attacks. However, the timing calls for some pondering.

This is perhaps the first time, since the suicide attacks that took place in Casablanca in 2003, where the preemptive monitoring – that allowed for dismantling several terrorist cells – has failed to prevent the attack at the famous Arkana restaurant, whose name had been repeated in previous, unimplemented [terrorist] plans. The restaurant is famous for its location that overlooks the Forja Square of the Al-Fana Mosque in addition to being visited by scores of foreign tourists.

The paradox is that this square has been, for the past centuries, a place for beheading outlaws during the era of the tribal unrest and clashes because it was a major passage for trade processions. On Thursday morning, the square turned into a guillotine killing innocents whose only sin is that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time; a time that was picked by the blind, transcontinental terrorism. The objective [of the attack] was to target Morocco’s experience in facing the challenges of the current phase. Hitting the tourism sector is but one facet of the experience, which mixes open politics with versatile economy.

For several reasons, Morocco had been in the front lines of the war against terror in the region. It succeeded in stirring the interest of the European Union and the USA. However, the expansion of the terrorist phenomenon all the way to the coast bordering the southern desert raises some serious threats. Morocco has based its actions on dismantling several [terrorist] cells, whose members had been trained on the use of weapons in the Al-Qaeda camps. Investigations had also revealed that these members were about to attract some volunteers to the tense areas in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen. However, the shock consisted of the targeting of the Moroccan depth, which is symbolically represented by the Al-Fana mosque and the city of Marrakesh specifically.

Considering that the terrorist explosion targeted foreign nationals; and that the infection has turned from kidnapping such nationals from the desert at the triangle of death on the borders of Mauritania, Mali, and Algeria to killing them in public places, did Morocco pay the price of its stands or were the terrorist attacks planned to take place on an open front with the aim of reshuffling the cards?

It is noteworthy that the timing of the attack was concomitant with the signs of openness on the level of the Moroccan-Algerian relations. As Algeria had kept Rabat out of the steps and measures aiming at implementing a security related and military coordination for the war against terror on the coast and in the desert, it was clear that some détente had occurred that left a positive repercussion. At least, the coordination between the two neighboring countries had started especially in light of calls issued by Western capitals in this direction.

Such a possibility is not unlikely, especially when linked to whispers concerning the possibility of looking into the re-opening of the borders between the two neighboring countries. This possibility is further underlined by the fact that the decision [to close the borders] came at the backdrop of terrorist attacks that took place in the city of Marrakesh itself in the summer of 1994. On top of that, the general direction at arranging the relations between the countries of North Africa cannot be possibly achieved without the completion of the agreement and détente scenes between Algeria and Morocco.

Some sides do not want this rapprochement to occur. On the other hand, there are additional ongoing peaceful efforts working on restoring the warmth to the relationships between the two neighboring countries. Indeed, when it comes to the security related challenges, the concern for terrorism is a common point threatening all countries. Confronting terrorism is better achieved via the highest level of cooperation.

All the possibilities are likely until those who are implicated in the terrorist explosion are revealed. However, the backgrounds of the cells that have been dismantled over the past years point to connections with local, regional, and international organizations. We hope that the international solidarity with Morocco would yield a better plan against the blind terrorism, which hits, in order to deepen the despair and the quagmire that has no exits, by turning time back.

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