Morocco warns of Sahel ‘time bomb’ after Daesh-linked cell busted

A picture taken on September 11, 2020, during a press conference by the director of Morocco's Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), shows various equipment seized as a result of the dismantling of a Daesh-affiliated cell that was planning suicide bombings. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 September 2020

Morocco warns of Sahel ‘time bomb’ after Daesh-linked cell busted

  • “It was a dangerous cell primed to go into action at any moment,” said Abdelhak Khiame, head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ)
  • Explosive belts, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of ammonium nitrate, electronic equipment and bladed weapons were seized in raids on homes and businesses of the suspects

SALÉ, Morocco: The Sahel region of Africa is a ticking “time bomb” of terrorism and organized crime, a Moroccan police chief told AFP on Friday, a day after a suspected Daesh group-affiliated cell was busted.
“It was a dangerous cell primed to go into action at any moment,” Abdelhak Khiame, head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), said in an interview at its offices in Sale, near Morocco’s capital Rabat.
Five “extremists,” aged between 29 and 43, were detained Thursday in simultaneous operations at sites in Tangiers and the Rabat region, said the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations.
Explosive belts, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of ammonium nitrate, electronic equipment and bladed weapons were seized in raids on homes and businesses of the suspects, the bureau said.
Khiame said the Daesh-affiliated group was plotting suicide attacks targeting “public personalities, military figures and the headquarters of security services” in the North African kingdom.
Three kilos (6.5 pounds) of ammonium nitrate, the chemical behind the August 4 cataclysmic Beirut blast, was also netted.
Pledges of allegiance to the Daesh were discovered. Two of the suspects put up “fierce resistance,” leaving a policeman with serious knife wounds.
The alleged head of the group, a 37-year-old fish salesman, had been convicted of a common law crime in 2004 and radicalized since.
Khiame said it was the first such large-scale bust since the 2003 Islamist suicide attacks in Casablanca, Morocco’s economic capital, that left 33 dead.
He warned that Daesh “has developed in the Sahel-Sahara region, with the conflict in Libya and in countries like Mali which do not control not their security.”
The Sahel covers western and north-central Africa.
“Terrorist cells and terrorism are growing in the region but also organized crime networks, drug trafficking, weapons and human beings,” said the BCIJ chief.
“All of this... makes the Sahel region, in my opinion, a time bomb.”
Khiame said the dismantled cell had apparently had no direct contact with the extremists of Daesh.
But “even if Daesh was defeated in the Levant, in the region of Syria and Iraq, its ideology... does not need territory, it can develop where it finds sympathizers,” he said.
Daesh-inspired “cells underground act like sleeper cells which in most cases have no relationship to each other,” he said.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.