Sunday’s suicide bombing in an Internet Café of Casablanca reflects the growing pressure of the Islamist and terrorist networks in Morocco. The ongoing investigation revealed that suicide bombers were planning larger scale attacks, confirming that the country could be the next target of a North African terrorist network under consolidation following the GSPC offensive in Algeria, causing 50 deaths since the beginning of the year and after violence involving GSPC members erupted in Tunisia in December and January.
The suicide bombing in Casablanca came three years after the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004. It was also in a Cyber café where Moroccan authorities arrested last week in Casablanca a key leader of the GICM (Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group), Saad Houssaini, a veteran of Afghanistan and co-founder of the GICM, wanted since the Casablanca bombings of May 2003. Saad Houssaini was also connected to at least one of the Madrid bombers. According to Spanish Court records, in 1996, Hussaini formed in Valencia a radical Islamic group to plan terrorist attacks in Spain and Morocco along with three other activists, including Allekema Lamari. Lamari’s remains were positively identified in the Leganes apartment were several 11M bombers blew themselves up after the attacks. DNA traces of Lamari were later recovered in a car used by the bombers to transport bombing devices on the morning of March 11, 2004. Saad Houssaini is also believed to be related to the 9/11 plot. According to the German authorities, he travelled from Istanbul to Karachi (under the name of Abdellah Hosayni) with Said Bahaji, an alleged member of the Hamburg cell, on September 3, 2001.
The arrest of Houssaini, who appeared as the rising figure among the jihadi groups in Morocco following the Casablanca bombings and the killing of Karim Al Mejjati, alleged mastermind of the Madrid bombings, in Saudi Arabia in April 2005, could have triggered the Sunday’s bombing in Casablanca.
The bombing is a new indication of the growing threat posed by Al Qaeda affiliates in the region in an effort to reinforce and coordinate their actions under the umbrella organization of “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”.
The fight against these networks has been active in Algeria and especially Morocco, where at least two separate terrorist networks have been dismantled over the last 6 months. Efforts have also intensified in Europe, where these networks have many supporters and where they are determined to export their violence. But if the European Intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have proven in the past their strong ability and efficiency in identifying terrorist threats and neutralizing terrorist networks, the European legal framework has failed to provide such efficient and preventive actions against the support networks of these groups.
The best example was provided last October, when a combined action of several European countries, including Italy and Switzerland, led to the arrest of several GSPC financial facilitators. The investigation uncovered that the cell has been able to transfer 1.3 million Euros via banks, 320,000 Euros in money transfers and thousands more via cash couriers to Algeria. Most of the cell members, including its leader Djamel Lounici, have already been identified in connection to terrorist networks as early as 1994. Some of them had already been indicted and condemned before being released in recent years. In one of these early warnings, a telephone intercept conducted in 1994 by the Italian authorities, cell members referred to Europe as a “paradise” where “there is no control whatsoever”. A key member of the cell claimed that the European governments “pretend to be vigilant, but in the end they do nothing. They only try to impress people”.
(Originally posted on March 12, 2007)
Another sign that the threat level is high in the region is the fact that the US Embassy in Algiers issued yesterday a warning saying “There is information that extremists may be planning to conduct an attack against a commercial aircraft carrying Western workers in Algeria”.
The British Embassy in Algiers issued a similar message on March 13: “We are aware of reports that terrorists may be planning to carry out attacks against aircraft flying into Algeria.”
It should be reminded that a commando of the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), from which emanated the GSPC in 1998, hijacked an Air France plane in December 1994 in Algiers with the initial objective to fly it into the Eiffel Tower. French commandos stormed the plane when it stopped to refuel in Marseilles, killing the four hijackers and rescuing the 170 passengers. The GIA claimed at the time it ordered the hijacking to punish France for its support of the Algerian government.