You don’t have to be a Martyr to live it up as a Muslim Terrorist, just get put in a Moroccan Prison… In a world where terrorism has run rampant, stories like these just touch upon the real issues, governments that support and fuel terrorists, enabling them through complacency and reward systems.
As one of the regular prisons states, should he become a terrorist so he gets the same priviledges…
It makes me feel bad for the Dix Six who are in prison for planning to kill US Soldiers at Fort Dix, NJ… Those poor terrorists are not afforded the luxuries of Ahmed Rafiki, although they may be getting laptops soon…
Prisons are known to be a catalyst for terrorist recruitment, why not treat the prisoners like prisoners and maybe it will not be so appealing…
CASABLANCA, Morocco — Ahmed Rafiki sprawled on the makeshift couch in his cell, a fresh red henna dye in his long hair and beard.
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Known to other militants as the father of Moroccan jihadists, he was convicted in 2003 of leading young men to fight Americans in Afghanistan. But here in Oukacha Prison, Mr. Rafiki, an Islamist cleric, is serving the final months of his sentence in style.
His kitchen and larder are stocked three times a week by his two wives. His curtained doorway leads to a private garden and bath. He has two radios and a television, a reading stand for his Koran and a wardrobe of crisply ironed Islamic attire.
“In my case,” he said with a smile, “the people treat me well.”
Hardly a scene of harsh interrogation and detention for which Moroccan prisons are known, Mr. Rafiki’s plush prison life is evidence of an awkward balancing act between the crackdown on militants in many countries and the power those militants can hold over the authorities.
Through hunger strikes and protests, Mr. Rafiki and Oukacha’s 65 other militant inmates have won perks — including exclusive use of the conjugal rooms — that make them the envy of the prison’s 7,600 other inmates.
One recent morning, a prisoner advocate handed the warden a long list of inmates not linked to terrorism cases who were demanding equal time with their wives.
“‘Why do they get much more rights than we get here?’” the advocate, Assia El Ouadie, said the other prisoners constantly asked her. “‘Do you want us to become terrorism prisoners, and then we will get those rights?’”
Even as more and more militants are imprisoned around the world — often by governments with records of conducting extreme interrogations — the prisoners are managing to gain a kind of crude leverage over security officials who are struggling to figure out how to handle them.
Draconian, or even strict, treatment of radical inmates can lead to prison unrest and public condemnation, particularly in countries with sizable Muslim populations. At the same time, officials fear that militants given free rein are more likely to turn prisons into prime grounds for radicalization and recruiting.
“More than any time in the modern history of terrorism, the prisons have become a key front in the war on terror,” Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, wrote in a report for the United States government earlier this year.
He estimated that there were 5,000 jihadi inmates and detainees worldwide, not counting those held in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that only 15 percent had received life sentences or the death penalty, meaning the rest would eventually be set free.
Here in Morocco, across the Arab world and in European countries like Spain and France, there is a growing realization that catching and convicting militants is hardly the end of the problem. Many are getting sentences of only a few years, and Arab governments continue to release hundreds every year through mass pardons aimed at quelling fundamentalist Islamic movements.
Last April, a meeting in Morocco on radicalization of Islamic prisoners drew representatives of 21 countries. “There is some confusion as to how, in overcrowded and underfinanced prison systems, you deal with these special case prisoners,” said a British official who helped run the meeting, who spoke anonymously, citing normal diplomatic strictures. British officials acknowledge that they erred in the early 1980s when they gave Irish Republican Army prisoners their own cellblock, only to see them carry out fatal hunger strikes that won public support. But the authorities say militant Islamic inmates are even more sophisticated.
Manuals from Al Qaeda instruct prisoners on how to resist interrogations, wage hunger strikes and use prison time to strengthen religious convictions. This month, Australian officials said a group of 40 Muslim inmates, not previously considered extremists, were found using guidance from a manual to organize themselves and stage protests at a prison near Sydney. Officials responded by scattering them among other prisons.
But that is hardly a fail-safe strategy. When members of the Qaeda-inspired group Fatah al Islam, which fought the Lebanese Army for three months this year, were locked up in Roumieh Prison near Beirut, Lebanese authorities found they had been using smuggled cellphones to contact other jailed militants and their families outside.
Some Middle Eastern and European countries are using moderate imams in prisons in hopes of quelling the extremist fervor. “You have to fight their ideology with Islam and against their wrong interpretation of Islam,” said a top Syrian security official.
The biggest concern is that militants will return to the fight once released, despite having been imprisoned, or perhaps because of it.
That is what Mohammed Mazouz did after he was freed in 2004 from the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He was picked up last fall in Morocco as he was preparing to leave for Iraq to fight American troops. “I can’t forget what they did with me,” he said of his American captors, during an interview in a Moroccan prison. “I can’t forget all my life. I hate it.”
He was released two days later.
Rise of Fundamentalism
Morocco had few Islamic militants in its prisons during the 1990s, when leftists, angered by the country’s poverty and official corruption, posed more of a threat to the monarchy. King Mohammed VI began a series of liberalizations after assuming the throne in 1999. Yet a new challenge was rising, as the Islamic fundamentalism sweeping the Arab world gathered public support in Morocco. While the most popular Muslim leaders professed nonviolence, radicals began planning terrorist attacks.
In May 2003, eight weeks after the United States invaded Iraq, Morocco was hit by its worst terrorist attack ever. A dozen suicide bombers struck a cafe, a hotel and Jewish establishments in Casablanca, killing more than 30 people. The struggle between the militants and the government landed in Morocco’s prisons.
Hundreds of suspects were detained. In prison interviews with The New York Times, five men said they had been tortured during interrogations, subjected to a method of anal rape known as “the bottle treatment.”
In all, more than 1,400 men were convicted of terrorism-related charges and imprisoned. In May 2005, the militants started a 28-day hunger strike, using contraband cellphones to rally compatriots throughout the prison system.
A militant former convict, Abderahim Mohtad, started a prisoner advocacy group and stirred public support for the strikers. “Their strength comes from their belief in God,” he said in his storefront office, where one wall is covered with pictures of militant inmates. “You tortured him, you didn’t get anything from him. You arrested him and you didn’t get anything from him. You judged them, and some of them had been judged with death, and they are still laughing.”
While the Casablanca bombings had dampened public sympathy for terrorist groups, animosity toward the United States ran strong. The jailed militants were seen as motivated by the war in Iraq and by Morocco’s role in America’s campaign against terrorism.
Morocco has participated in a Sahara-wide counterterrorism effort financed by the United States, by helping to gather and share intelligence and by detaining terrorism suspects.
Many inmates protested that they had no role in the bombings, and Moroccan authorities acknowledged in recent interviews that many had been arrested simply for embracing an extreme ideology.
When the strike ended, courts reduced the sentences of some militants, and the king pardoned several hundred more. Those who remained in prison began to get special privileges.
“They started with hunger strikes and problems,” said Abdelati Belghazi, director of Zaki Prison, north of the capital, Rabat. “The media and organizations started to get involved, and because we wanted them to stop, we had to give them some of the things that they have requested. And then they started to feel much stronger because they saw that they received what they wanted. They requested more and more.”
More Space in Cells
At Zaki, one of two prisons where The Times interviewed militant inmates and prison officials, the 309 prisoners held as terrorists have much more space — averaging 3 men in each cell, compared with 22 per cell for the prison’s 3,500 regular inmates, a prison official said.
They also have a system for lodging complaints, a fact that at times irritates Ms. Ouadie, the prisoner advocate appointed by the king to mediate disputes.
“The guards threw a Koran on the ground,” a militant representative in Zaki, Yassine Aliouine, complained. Since the guards are Muslims, too, Ms. Ouadie said, it is more likely that the book simply fell.
“Yes, but they saw it and didn’t pick it up,” Mr. Aliouine replied.
When Ms. Ouadie raised the issue with the prison director, Mr. Belghazi, he played a videotape of the search where the Koran was said to have been abused, and a startlingly different scene emerged.
The video showed the guards collecting a bucketful of contraband electronics, including cellphones. They found a poster that listed militant groups and their leaders. They discovered a jackknife baked in a loaf of bread, and the warden dumped a dozen more blades on a table that he said the militants had tossed out of their windows.
Despite such periodic seizures, militant inmates in several Moroccan prisons were able to call Times reporters, both before and after the visits.
Oukacha, in Casablanca, is arguably the best address for jailed militants. Even the director, El Maati Boubiza, said he was amazed when he took the job last year. “Their cell doors were open 24 hours,” he said. “Only they could use the conjugal rooms, and they were using them starting at 6 a.m.”
Cellblock 5, where many of the militants live, functions like a small village. The inmates hold boxing matches. Sheep are slaughtered for the holidays. In one of the two kitchens, a cook proudly displayed his cutlery and an array of containers that held fresh deliveries from inmates’ families.
Down the hall, Hassan Kettani, a Islamic theorist renowned in global jihad circles, declined to be interviewed on videotape — until he changed out of his everyday clothes.
A few minutes later, he sauntered down to the lobby, unescorted, and posed in a white robe and golden headdress. “We were in very bad shape when we were captured,” he said of the days before the first hunger strike. “It was hard.”
The militants have also sought to draw public support by writing letters to local newspapers and jihadist Web sites, alternately complaining about their incarceration and presenting it as a duty gladly fulfilled.
“In our religion, we believe in destiny, and I believe that God has written this to me and I have to go through that,” said Mr. Rifiki, the militant cleric, whose group, Salafia Jihadia — or Fight of Ancestors — is considered a terrorist organization that reaches from North Africa to Europe.
Moderating the views of the hardest militants may be an impossibility, but Ms. Ouadie said prison authorities could help stop the cycle of radicalization by separating moderate Islamist prisoners from the more extreme ones. “I would arrange Islamic teachings and also treat them in a humane way,” she said.
Still, the terrorist attacks continue in Morocco and, despite the concessions to militant inmates, so do harsh interrogations by the police and intelligence agents, according to interviews with inmates.
Allegations of Torture
While Moroccan officials declined to comment on the allegations of torture, the accusers include a former investigations officer with the national security service, Abderahim Tarik, who was arrested last year on suspicion of ties to a militant group, which he denies.
Mr. Tarik said that for six days at a police station named Temara, he was beaten with sticks, stripped naked, doused with cold water and shocked with an electric prod on his feet and anus. “They started to tell me we will bring your wife tomorrow and rape her directly in front of you,” he said.
Abdelfattah Raydi exemplifies the cycle of arrests, incarceration and attacks.
Mr. Raydi, arrested in 2003 as a militant sympathizer, said in a letter he wrote in Oukacha to a human rights group, obtained by The Times, that he underwent both physical and psychological torture. “He beat me until I fainted,” he wrote of one of his questioners. Abdelfatif Amarin and two other cellmates of Mr. Raydi’s said that Mr. Raydi told them that he had been given the “bottle treatment.”
“I remember that he had nightmares and cried during his sleep,” said one inmate, asking not to be identified for fear of reprisal by prison officials. “He told me several times, ‘I swear to God, if I would have known that they would do this to me, I would have killed myself before.’”
In prison, Mr. Raydi spent time with a militant leader named Hassan al-Khattab, according to inmates, and they were both released in the king’s mass pardon in 2005. Mr. Raydi married, found work and moved away from the shantytown where he was raised with six brothers in a one-room shack, friends and relatives said.
Then last year, according to the authorities, he joined Mr. Khattab in a disrupted terrorist plot. Mr. Khattab was tried and awaits sentencing. But Mr. Raydi evaded capture, and was being sought by the authorities when he walked into an Internet cafe this March and blew himself up when the owner grew suspicious and called the police.
Chased by the authorities, Mr. Raydi’s brother and four other men wearing suicide vests blew themselves up in the following weeks, and the manhunt has produced dozens of new arrests.
On Nov. 8, 51 suspects, including one woman and two of Mr. Raydi’s brothers, made their first appearance in court. Among them was the son of a man arrested in the 2003 sweeps. “Do they treat you well, Hamid?” his grandmother asked after the hearing, pressing her hand to the glass partition. “How is your health?”
“All is good, grandmother,” he replied. “Are you coming to visit me later?”
Filed under: Crimes, Politics, Religion, Terrorism & Terrorist Threat, Under Reported | Tagged: Abderahim Mohtad, Ahmed Rafiki, Al Qaeda, Cuba, Dennis Pluchinsky, Guantanamo Bay, Hassan Kettani, Iraq, Islam, Islamic Cleric, Jihad, Kung Mohammed VI, Mohammed Mazouz, Moroccan Prisons, Morocco, Muslim, Oukacha Prison, Yassine Aliouine, Zaki |