By Mohammed Saadouni in Casablanca
for Magharebia

WOMEN

Moroccan authorities say a Tangier terror cell targeted women without hijab. Five suspects were arraigned on December 29th [AFP File/Abdelhak Senna]

Members of a terror cell arrested in Tangier are accused of beating and robbing women who were not fully covered.

Five criminal suspects picked up last week in Tangier were arraigned on terrorism charges, MAP reported on Monday (December 29th).

The interior ministry on December 23rd reported that police had dismantled an extremist network that attacked citizens with knives and sticks.

The cell used religion to justify their actions, security analyst Mohammed Okdad told Magharebia.

“They conduct criminal operations in the street aimed at girls and women who are not fully covered on the grounds that they are apostates and their belongings deserve to be looted,” he said.

Most of the suspects were arrested in the poor Beni Makada neighbourhood, he said, and included “two brothers well known in the neighbourhood for their fanaticism.”

He described the group’s modus operandi: “They stop girls and women who do not wear the veil in the neighbourhood and ask them about the ordinances of ablution and the number of prostrations in the five daily prayers, then accuse them of being immodestly covered … and issue verdicts against them on the spot.”

“They then begin to rob their ornaments, money, phones and all they have in their handbags under threat of knives and being beaten with sticks or slapped, claiming that they are implementing God’s rules in the land by disseminating Sharia law,” Okdad explained.

Leila M., a university student, was one of the gang’s victims. She filed a complaint with the judicial police in Tangier after being attacked by three of the suspects.

“They stopped me. They had light beards. They wielded sticks against me and asked me to give them my money and jewellery,” the young woman said.

“They were spitting on my face and shouting, ‘Vile demon, God damn you … What are these scandalous clothes … Cover yourself’,” she said.

According to Essam al-Ibrahimi, a lawyer who specialises in terrorism cases, the gang members “consider every girl or woman who does not put on the veil or hijab to be outside the religion and consequently to deserve to be stoned and have her property looted.”

Al-Ibrahimi said the group claimed to be promotion of virtue and preventing vice.

Rachid El Mnasfi, a criminologist, told Magharebia that the cell followed the ideology of the Islamic State (ISIS), which uses Sharia to justify looting, vandalism and murder.

“This bunch of thieves with criminal precedents steals under the pretext of religion… but pretends to themselves that they are implementing God’s law and that they apply Sharia in order not to feel guilt when engaging in this criminal behaviour,” he said.

Abdelbari Zemzami, president of the Moroccan Association for Jurisprudence, confirmed that Islam does not call for terrorising people by looting them.

“This is a disgraceful behaviour that sows fear in the community and no one has the right to stop people, be they men or women, to ask about things between them and their Lord,” Zemzami said.

“Prayer and legitimate dress are personal matters and only God has the right to ask his people about the reason for the neglect of religious duties and all matters relating to worship and duties towards the almighty,” he added.