Radical Islamists are shifting focus toward the Maghreb, but it remains to be seen whether their message will find receptive grounds in the region.
A group calling itself the “Co-ordination of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco” is using Facebook to spread its radical message.
The announcement of a new group calling itself the “Co-ordination of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco” is sparking debate among the followers of the salafist jihadist current in the kingdom.
Although the new group claims to espouse peaceful means, its focus on combating secularism and their stated aim of creating an Islamic caliphate are raising alarm and doubts about its intentions.
The new group made its presence known September 17th with the opening of Facebook page and the posting a doctrinal document on jihadist forums. In its founding documents, Ansar al-Sharia set a primary goal of battling secularism, describing it as a malicious “plant” that has nothing to do with the nation and its culture, further labelling it as a “stark kufr and clear apostasy from religion”.
The announcement of the new extremist group in Morocco follows the launch of other salafist initiatives under the same name in places such as Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Researchers believe that these groups represent the new face of al-Qaeda, created to adapt to the developments of the Arab Spring.
But the positions adopted by Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco are so radical that they are even turning off some long-time Islamist leaders in the country.
Sheikh Omar Hadouchi, an influential salafist jihadist sheikh in kingdom, was quick to warn other salafists against this initiative. He disavowed the new group, describing it as divisive. Instead, he called on the followers and supporters of the salafist jihadist current to become part of the “joint committee for the defence of Islamist detainees”, which includes veteran Afghan Moroccans, salafist jihadist prisoners, their families, supporters and sympathisers.
The dissidents “promote things between the people that I fear will lead to more evil than good,” he says. “Therefore, I hope that our ranks won’t be divided under any names whatsoever. Changing the name doesn’t change the concept or the other way round.”
For their part, salafist preachers Abou Hafs and Hassan Kettani said that they had nothing to do with the initiative.
Ansar al-Sharia first appeared publically when it took part in a protest in support of imprisoned terrorists. The rally was organised by Adam El-Mejjati’s mother opposite Tiflet prison to demand that the authorities allow her to visit her husband, Omar Amrani. However, El-Mejjati’s mother denied she had any ties with the new group.
Salafist preacher Omar Hadouchi says Ansar al-Sharia promotes an agenda that “will lead to more evil than good”.
In response to the announcement of the new group, Ahmed Choukairi Dini, a moderate preacher and a member of the Justice and Development Party (PJD)’s Secretariat-General, sent a message to Ansar al-Sharia voicing his concerns and worries over the “mistakes, political and Sharia slips” contained in the new group’s doctrinal document.
Judging secularism to be kufr is one of the most dangerous ideological landmines in the document, according to Dini. He says that this judgment does not take into consideration the historical circumstances in which secularism appeared as a political ideology in Morocco.
Moroccans have found a solution to this dilemma by “making religion and politics converge in the great imamate position which is assumed by the Commander of the Faithful who heads the High Council of Ulemas”, he adds.
“The Moroccan state doesn’t espouse the secular ideology because the king’s legitimacy is based on a baya (pledge of allegiance) and command of the faithful,” Dini notes.
Although the new group is presenting itself in its doctrinal document as “a peaceful, political, educational preaching group without any ties with foreign entities”, Dini questions Ansar al-Sharia’s intentions regarding the choice of peaceful action. He believes that linking peaceful political action in the document to the circumstances of the current era shows that the group may resort to violence when circumstances change or the balance of power tips.
This contradicting position will reflect on the structure of Ansar al-Sharia, which will have two facets – one for peaceful, public action, and another for covert, revolutionary action, according to Dini.
“Joining politics would require certain things, the most important of which is renunciation of all forms of violence; avoidance of the culture of takfir and bombing that has harmed the call,” Dini writes. He adds that it also requires co-operation with other sects and “a distance from the jihadist currents that believe the only way to change is through violence”.
In his message to Ansar al-Sharia, Dini says that preaching and promoting Islam doesn’t need violence.
“God’s religion is spreading in the East and West using peaceful means, and therefore, there is no need for conquests that were the only means to spread God’s religion in past centuries.” He said.
Abdelhak Senna] Ansar al-Sharia made its public debut with a protest calling for greater rights for incarcerated terrorists.
The Co-ordination of Ansar al-Sharia in Morocco maintains the same ideological positions as similar groups with the same name.
In its doctrinal document, it writes that it will use “all useful means and mechanisms that aren’t prohibited under the Sharia, such as mosque pulpits, lessons, meetings, forums, distribution of books and flyers, and all available means of media, whether print, audio or video”.
“We will also take advantage of the margin of freedom that was allowed to us by the Arab Spring revolutions, and we don’t deny that our country has started to feel some of its effects. It’s in our interest to keep, preserve and even expand its circle,” Ansar al-Sharia stated. “The goal is to unite our ranks and realise the purposes of Islamic Sharia.”
Its Facebook page reflects its ideological links, where media materials issued by al-Qaeda and other affiliated jihadist groups are posted.
The group also uses its Facebook page to incite violence. It recently posted instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails and recommended using them in confrontations with policemen during protests in Beni Mekada, Tangier, in the first week of October when a group of residents objected to a court judgment ordering the evacuation of a house.
Ansar al-Sharia’s Facebook page also links to the al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies in London, headed up by Hani al-Sibai, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. In 2005, he was classified by a UN committee as a collaborator with al-Qaeda.
Al-Sibai has repeatedly agitated against governments across the Arab world, including Morocco. He said that in Morocco, people were “deceived” by democratic reforms launched by the king last year.
“If you want to change in the sense you want, then you have to stage sits-in at public squares and never leave them,” he said. The extremist khattib went on to declare that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were “hijacked” by secularists, despite democratically elected Islamist governments in both countries.
It remains to be seen, however, if the radical message of al-Sibai and Ansar al-Sharia will find footing in Morocco.