2016-01-14

ICANN 55, Marrakech, Morocco: Travel Warnings, Threat of Terrorist Acts

Going to ICANN55 Marrakech, Morocco, March 5-10? Caveat Viator!

[note: all UPDATES further below]

Terrorism - "There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco."
"Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. In April 2011, 17 people were killed and 25 injured in a large explosion in Marrakech at the Argana Restaurant in Djema el-Fna Square. Protective security measures are in place at many Moroccan hotels and sites popular with tourists. Security measures, including security personnel, may be visible in certain areas.The Moroccan authorities have warned of an increased threat linked to the growing number of Moroccans sympathetic or belonging to international terrorist organisations operating in Syria, Iraq and Libya, and regularly report the disruption of terrorist cells. There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time." source: UK government (emphasis added)--see further below more warnings from governments, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, U.S.

*But note ICANN's response dated January 27, 2016Safety and Security at ICANN Meetings - Jan 27, 2016 - ICANN"... regarding ICANN55 specifically, we are in constant and on-going communication with our hosts and the Moroccan government, to assess any security concerns surrounding the upcoming meeting. In addition, we are working with a highly respected global security-consulting firm, which gives us on-going updates of potential risks. This firm has also assigned a senior level analyst to work with ICANN. As of this date, the assessments of these various security experts is that there is only a LOW risk of any type of terrorist activity in Morocco ... here are just a few [security measures] we will be instituting for the first time in Marrakech ...
  • Every delegate will now need a government-issued ID to pick up a badge at the registration desk.
  • There will be increased security screening for those entering our meeting venue, which may include metal detectors, magnetic wands and bag checks.
  • There will be advanced verification of delegate registration information by Moroccan authorities.
  • Security will be increased at the hotels where delegates are staying.
  • We are establishing a 24/7 operations center at the venue..." (emphasis added)

UPDATES: 
Ex-Guantanamo detainee allegedly led recruiting cell for the Islamic State #ISIS | The Long War Journal February 29, 2016: "... According to the brief biography in JTF-GTMO’s assessment, which appears to be largely based on Ahmed’s own account while in custody, Ahmed and his brothers were selling drugs in the 1990s when he “became involved in the Jamaat Tablighi” and “traveled to Morocco at the invitation of an extremist recruiter.” Jamaat Tablighi is an Islamic proselytization group that JTF-GTMO found was frequently used as a cover for jihadists traveling around the globe. While in Morocco, Ahmed became interested in the jihad in Chechnya. He was allegedly “recruited by a man named ‘Naiz’ and the pair traveled to the United Kingdom (UK).” Naiz paid for Ahmed’s trip. “After arriving in the UK in May 2001,” according to the JTF-GTMO file, Ahmed “started worshipping at the Nor mosque in London,” supplementing “the income he received from his brother by selling drugs at a disco where he worked”..." Tablighi Jamaat - (Wikipedia): "In France, as many as "80% percent of the Islamist extremists" have come from Tablighi ranks ..."

UPDATE: ‘Real armed commando’: Police bust ISIS terror cell preparing ‘chemical attack’ in Morocco — RT News 20 Feb 2016 (video and photos at link) and also: Today 24: (Feb 20, 2016) "... The source added that among the plans that this cell intended to implement, attack tourist structures, especially hotel establishments, including the "Sofitel" and "City" in Essaouira, the killing of Western tourists in Essaouira, and prominent personalities public civilian and military, attacking military barracks and, in particular, Meknes and Marrakesh in order to acquire firearms..."
UPDATE 19 Feb 2016: ISIS plans series of terror attacks in Morocco: official - Cihan: Feb 19, 2016 - "A top Moroccan intelligence official said Friday that the Islamic State (ISIS) planned a series of terror attacks in Morocco, including a suicide car bomb attack..." See also: ISIS Terrorist Cell Dismantled in Morocco 'Planned to Use Biological Weapons' (Feb 19, 2016)
UPDATE 18 Feb 2016Report Says Morocco security services foiled “dangerous” ISIS (Islamic State affiliate) terrorist attacks and arrested 10 suspects, including a French national, on Thursday. "The members of the cell were arrested with a large stock of weapons that they were planning to use to “carry out large-scale guerrilla-style warfare” in the Kingdom, according to the release" (read more at link above).
UPDATE 3 Feb 2016: Morocco: a new terrorist cell dismantled in Marrakech - Afrik.com: "A new alleged terrorist cell was dismantled on Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ). Its members were active in Marrakech, Laayoune and Boujdour ..." (read more at link above)
UPDATE 1 Feb 2016: according to a report in Middle East Eye, updated Jan 29, 2016, many of the ISIS fighters in Libya are Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians, Nigerians and Sudanese. “Many of them have also return from the war in Syria, and they are well organised and prepared for everything. And from our interrogations with prisoners, we assume that the next targets will be Morocco and Algeria...” see also #InsideMorocco | Middle East Eye
UPDATE Report (Jan 25, 2016) Morocco reportedly will join US-led coalition against ISIS in Libya. 
UPDATE ISIS sets sights on overthrowing governments of Morocco and Tunisia - Middle East - Jerusalem Post 01/21/2016: "Amid civil unrest in Tunisia and Morocco, ISIS calls on Muslims to attack both states and oust their 'apostate' democratic governments. In the wake of growing civil unrest in Tunisia and Morocco, ISIS has launched a new media campaign directed at Muslims in the Islamic Maghreb, which focuses mainly on the 'apostate' governments of Tunisia and Morocco.The campaign, launched on Thursday, consists of several videos released by different ISIS provinces. The jihadists participating in the campaign call on Muslims to join ISIS strongholds in Tunisia, Libya, Mali and Algeria in order to oust the apostate democratic governments of Tunisia and Morocco and replace them with an Islamic regime based on Sharia law..."



UPDATE 19 Jan 2016Paris attackers linked in Morocco arrest - BBC News: "The man was detained near Casablanca on Friday, the interior ministry said, and had travelled from Syria via Turkey, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. He had fought in Syria with al-Nusra front before joining so-called Islamic State, Morocco said. The Paris attacks of 13 November [2015] killed 130 people..."(read more at link above)

UPDATE 18 Jan 2016Why did Burkina Faso become al-Qaida's latest target? | World news | The Guardian: "In a statement released online, the group said that the attack was “a new message from the heroic champions of Islam, with their blood and their bodies, to the slaves of the cross, the occupiers of our homes, the looters of our wealth, and who would undermine our security.” But putting hyperbole and propaganda aside, what message is AQIM looking to send - and for whom is it intended? First, it is a message to rival jihadist groups, particularly Islamic State (ISIS), that AQIM is once again a force to be reckoned with..." read more at link above and AQIM takes Australian couple hostage in northern Burkina Faso | The Long War Journal.

UPDATEProfile: Al-Qaeda in North Africa - BBC News: "... Morocco's security forces clamped down on several militant cells - arresting, trying and jailing their leaders - after four incidents blamed on al-Qaeda-inspired groups in 2007. The security forces were said to be on the lookout for militants who were believed to be crossing into Morocco from Algeria. And of course the Madrid train bombs, which killed almost 200 people in 2004, were the work of a Moroccan gang ..."


Attackers raided a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso overnight, opening fire and seizing hostages in an hours-long siege that ended with at least 23 people dead. Video above published Jan 16, 2016.
Map showing location of Paris, France, and Burkina Faso in relationship to Marrakech, Morocco, ICANN55 venue
Map showing location of Paris, France, and Burkina Faso in relationship to Marrakech, Morocco, ICANN55 venue
(source: Google Earth Map)
UPDATE 16 Jan 2016BBC: "At least 23 people of 18 different nationalities are now known to have died after Islamist militants attacked a luxury hotel in Burkina Faso [in west Africa]. ... A recently consolidated [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] ... is keen to cement its status as the dominant jihadist group in North Africa and the Sahel, particularly with the rise of its rival, the so-called Islamic State, in the region."

Map of The Maghreb, or the Greater Maghreb, usually defined as much or most of the region (including Marrakech, Morocco) of western North Africa, west of Egypt
The Maghreb, or the Greater Maghreb, is usually defined as much or most of the region
(including Marrakech, Morocco) of western North Africa, west of Egypt. Wikipedia
Going to Marrakech (a/k/a Marrakesh), Morocco, for the ICANN 55 meeting, March 5-10, 2016? 

Better take heed of official travel warnings and advisories issued by governments (see below, emphasis added), because you won't find any mention* of these dangers on the official ICANN 55 website:

Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Official advice: "High degree of caution"... "We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Morocco.--Summary--
  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Morocco because of the threat of terrorist attacks. You should pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Monitor the media and other sources about possible new security risks.
  • The Moroccan authorities have warned of an increased threat linked to the number of Moroccans belonging to international terrorist organisations operating in Syria and Iraq. Terrorist attacks have occurred in Morocco in places frequented by tourists in the past. See Safety and security.
  • There is a general threat of kidnapping against Westerners in North Africa. You should maintain a high level of vigilance at all times and especially when travelling in southern and border areas of Morocco.
  • You should monitor the media for reports of protest activity and avoid large gatherings and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Exercise particular caution on weekends, including in the period surrounding Friday prayers.
  • We strongly advise you not to travel to the Western Sahara because of the risk posed by landmines. Permission from Moroccan authorities is required before travelling to Western Sahara.
  • Australia does not have an embassy or consulate in Morocco. The Canadian Embassy located in Rabat, provides consular assistance to Australians in Morocco. This service includes the issuance of Provisional Travel Documents. The Australian Embassy in Paris can also assist Australians in Morocco...." (emphasis added)

New Zealand Government"... There is a general threat of terrorism in Morocco ..."

Government of Canada travel advice and advisories for Morocco: "MOROCCO - Exercise a high degree of caution There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Morocco. However, you should exercise a high degree of caution due to the threat of terrorism in the region."

U.S. Department of State:
"... The potential for terrorist violence against U.S. interests and citizens exists in Morocco. Moroccan authorities continue to disrupt groups seeking to attack U.S. or Western-affiliated and Moroccan government targets, arresting numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups. With indications that such groups still seek to carry out attacks in Morocco, it is important for U.S. citizens to be keenly aware of their surroundings and adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile. Establishments that are readily identifiable with the United States are potential targets for attacks. These may include facilities where U.S. citizens and other foreigners congregate, including clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, hotels, movie theaters, U.S. brand establishments, and other public areas. Such targets may also include establishments where activities occur that may offend religious sensitivities, such as casinos or places where alcoholic beverages are sold or consumed ..."

UK Government: "... Morocco is a Muslim country which follows Islamic laws and customs. You should respect these at all times. See Local Laws and Customs. There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco. See Terrorism ..."

Recent news headlines:
Europe turns to Morocco in Paris attacks investigation
Reuters
Morocco provided the tip-off that enabled French police to locate Abaaoud ... He returned to Morocco from France ... Morocco has stepped up its tracking of militant cells since Islamist attackers killed 17 people in Marrakesh in 2011 ...

Viral Video Kiss Results In Arrest Of Two Men In Morocco
Queerty
Morocco has been a haven for antigay sentiment in recent years. One gay tourist was arrested for “homosexual acts,” and human rights activists have ...

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