In a series of counterterrorism raids undertaken earlier this week, Moroccan authorities arrested 32 individuals suspected of planning attacks against domestic targets. Among those arrested was Abdelhafid Sriti, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s al-Manar satellite television station.
In light of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat of an “open war” on Israel in response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh last week, Sriti’s arrest appears significant. Nasrallah’s eulogy at Mughniyeh’s funeral has been interpreted as foreshadowing attacks on Jewish and Israeli interests abroad—Hezbollah doesn’t distinguish between the two—and the Jewish community of Morocco has been the previous target of Islamist terrorists. On May 16, 2003, a Jewish cemetery, Jewish community center, and Jewish-owned Italian restaurant, among other Casablanca targets, were hit in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in Morocco’s history. Indeed, it is possible that Hezbollah has already begun planning its response to the Mughniyeh assassination, deploying its “media wing” in the immediate service of terror against one of the Muslim world’s most freely accessible—and therefore vulnerable—Jewish communities.
More concretely, however, the apparent involvement of an al-Manar correspondent in a Moroccan terrorist ring should serve as a stark reminder of the international dimension of Hezbollah’s operations. Far from “Lebanonizing”—i.e., increasingly participating in domestic Lebanese politics and thereby moderating, as many “experts” have claimed—Hezbollah has continually developed its relationship with Islamist organizations worldwide for the enhancement of its terrorist capabilities. In this vein, the Moroccan Islamist Badil al-Hadari party has been implicated in planning the attacks, while the Moroccan government has arrested Abdelkader Belliraj—a Moroccan national who lived in Belgium—as the network’s leader. In short, Hezbollah has found good company with militant Islamists well beyond Lebanon’s borders.
Finally, Sriti’s arrest should reinforce the extent to which al-Manar plays a critical role in Hezbollah’s terrorist activities—not only in the satellite transmission of radical Islamist ideology, but in the operational aspects of planning attacks. For this reason, policymakers should closely monitor Morocco’s investigation of Sriti, as this might provide key details regarding al-Manar’s non-media activities.
UPDATE: The AP is now confirming that the arrested Moroccan terrorist ring was targeting local Jews, though bizarrely omits the fact that an al-Manar correspondent was among those arrested.