Following a rocky year in their often-delicate relationship, France and Morocco have announced they will cooperate on counter-terrorist activities — especially in light of the ISIS threat, whose militants has been recruiting Muslims in both countries.
“We had a difficult year of course, now it’s behind us, and [relations] are resuming as if nothing had happened,” said Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkilane after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande, as reported by the Associated Press.
The “something” Prime Minister Benkilane now wishes to treat as “nothing” involved a squad of French police officers visiting the residence of the Moroccan ambassador in early 2014, demanding to question Moroccan intelligence chief Abdellatif Hammouchi over a torture complaint filed by Parisian human-rights group Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture. ACAT’s concern was the fate of Saharan independence activist Ennaama Asfari, arrested in 2010 and sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2013, based on a confession the group believes was extracted under duress.
Hammouchi was in France at the time, but he was not at the ambassador’s residence when the police dropped by. The Moroccan government was furious over the slight, while throngs of protesters gathered outside the French embassy in the Moroccan capital of Rabat. The resulting freeze in Franco-Moroccan relations only began to thaw last February, when the two countries agreed to resume judicial cooperation. Resuming coordination on counter-terrorist activity should represent a conclusive mending of fences.
Both France and Morocco have a very good reason to mend this particular fence: ISIS. “Both countries are deeply concerned by the large numbers of citizens leaving to fight with the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq,” the Associated Press notes.
France has provided the largest cohort of ISIS recruits from any European country, many of them immigrants of North African extraction. Morocco has seen over a thousand of its citizens leave to fight for the Islamic State, and this spring launched a series of domestic security actions that broke up ISIS cells all across the country.
As for Abdellatif Hammouchi, France announced it would award him the Legion d’honneur, its highest award, as a gesture of “respect” for his achievements against terrorists and drug traffickers, despite the torture allegations against him. The announcement was made in February, at the beginning of France’s rapprochement with Morocco — not long after the Charlie Hebdo slaughter focused the French mind upon the threat of Muslim terror.
Two weeks ago, Hammouchi received a significant show of confidence from his own government, becoming the new Director of the General Directorate for National Security (GDNS). As Morocco World News reported, this was the first time in the nation’s history that the head of the DGST internal intelligence apparatus was appointed head of the General Directorate for National Security.