Once the ultimate bastion against Islamic fundamentalism, Morocco has seen that sense of security swept away. During the reign of the present king’s father, Hassan II, the country was a haven of peace.
It remained untouched as Muslim extremists tore neighbouring Algeria apart.
But it is a very different story now.
In May 2003 there were five simultaneous bombings in Casablanca. Two dozen people were killed and more were injured in the explosions. The attacks were carried out by suicide bombers who chose strategic and symbolic targets in the tourism sector, the Jewish community, and a club frequented by Moroccan and Spanish businessmen.
It bore all the hallmarks of an al Qaeda attack.
Since then, Moroccan police have identified and broken up more than 50 Islamist cells, some of which were proved to have links to al Qaeda.
Thousands of arrests have been made.
At the end of last month 24 suspects were rounded up in a poor quarter of Casablanca and accused of conspiring to attack various industrial and tourist targets. Seven of those are thought to have been preparing suicide missions.
While Morocco is a popular tourist destination, most of its people live in extreme poverty. It is one of the poorest countries in Africa.
A fifth of the potential workforce are unemployed. Some 17 percent of the population live on less than a dollar a day. Half are illiterate.
The link between poverty and fundamentalism is a well recognised one.
Add to that endemic corruption, and the people’s frustration with their own government, as well as events in the Middle East and it is easy to see why the Moroccan slums would be fertile recruiting grounds for extreme organisations.
Journalist Jamal Ouahbi says that is the root of the problem: “ I think al Qaeda are indoctrinating people both on the Internet and here in Morocco. They are recruiting many people here,” he said.
As European governments work ever harder to root out al Qaeda cells in their own countries, Morocco can be seen as a convenient base for the Muslim terror group to threaten Europe from just across its borders.
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