Morocco 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
In general, crime in Morocco does not pose a significant threat to Americans visiting or working in the country. Crime is generally higher in areas where there is a high concentration of people and tourists. Most crime in Morocco against tourists and visitors is reported in Casablanca, followed by Tangier, Fez, Marrakesh, and Rabat. The same precautions that one might take in a large U.S. city should also be exercised in Moroccan cities.
Pickpockets and bag snatchers may target pedestrians, especially in larger urban areas. In general, maintaining careful control of your belongings and walking with your bag or purse well protected will be sufficient. A common scenario is for two assailants to approach the victim on a scooter; the passenger will snatch the bag or the jewelry from the victim. Pedestrians walking alone in isolated areas, or late at night, are at greater risk for being targeted.
Women who are alone or in pairs in an isolated setting may find themselves being the object of harassment or even physical assault by men. This is true in both rural and urban areas. Examples of this could include jogging in an area where there are very few people around, exploring a deserted beach, or walking to a hotel after arriving at a destination in the dark. It is best to remain with a larger group of people or take trusted forms of transportation under similar circumstances.
ATMs are generally safe to use if normal precautions are observed. If you are with a friend or a colleague, have them watch the surrounding area as you are focused on completing your transaction.
Americans residing in Morocco should live in homes that are equipped to prevent unauthorized entry. This generally means having security grilles protecting accessible windows and glass doors; exterior doors should be solidly built and have a minimum of two deadlocks; and single-family homes should have a wall that discourages intruders from entering the premises. Apartment dwellers should consider the possibility of intruders gaining access to their homes via adjacent balconies or structures and ensure that there are functional locks or other protection for areas vulnerable to unauthorized entry.
Travelers need to keep an eye on their belongings when using any type of public transport.
Firearms are not common and most armed assailants use edged weapons including knives, razors, or daggers. Most armed robberies occur during hours of darkness. Visitors should travel in groups when possible and avoid being out alone and during late-night or early morning hours. At night particularly, avoid areas that are poorly lit or secluded.
Traffic accidents are a major concern when traveling in Morocco. On average, more than eleven Moroccans die in motor vehicle accidents every day. The fatality rate for motor vehicle accidents is approximately nine times that of the United States. Drivers are erratic and often fail to stop or yield when required. A wide variety of vehicles share the road, including bicycles, scooters, donkey carts, and slower-moving utility vehicles. Many of the cars on the road are older and poorly maintained. It is commonplace for drivers to execute right turns from the left lane and vice-versa . Visitors to Morocco who drive must have their passport and/or international driver’s license with them and will be required to present either, if stopped by the local police or Royal Gendarmerie. Traffic enforcement authorities sometimes ask for bribes; valid traffic fines will be accompanied by paperwork, similar to a traffic ticket in the United States. Actual fines can legitimately be paid on the spot.
Speed limits are clearly marked; gendarme and police radar speed traps are frequent along highways and toll roads. If stopped following being detected speeding, expect a fine. Unlike in the United States where police use vehicles to stop vehicles, it is common for Moroccan police to stand in the road and wave vehicles over to the side. Checkpoints where vehicles slow down or stop are common when entering towns or cities. These are in place for security reasons, and foreign visitors are rarely questioned.
Drivers are only allowed to use cellular phones with hands-free devices.
Moroccan roads vary from high-speed toll roads to secondary roads, which may be poorly maintained. Road conditions vary by season. Heavy rains can wash away sections of road and create sink holes large enough to swallow a car. During the winter months, heavy snow can close roadways in mountainous areas.
There is a variety of public transport. “Petit taxis” are common in most cities and hold up to three people. These drivers often use a meter. Seatbelts usually do not work, and they cannot be used to travel between cities. Each town has its own particular color for petit taxis; for instance, they are red in Casablanca and blue in Rabat. “Grand taxis” are white Mercedes that ply fixed urban or interurban routes. They can be crowded and uncomfortable. These are generally not recommended for use by visitors except in rural areas where there are no other transportation options. Intercity buses are common and range from nice to decrepit. Avoid nighttime travel on buses for traffic safety reasons and try to use newer buses that seem to be in reasonable mechanical condition. The train network is extensive. Train destinations and times can be located on the ONCF website at www.oncf.ma (website currently only in French and Arabic). Casablanca has a limited subway system, which is used primarily by commuters and individuals accessing the airport.
On May 16, 2003, thirty-three victims were killed by twelve suicide bombers in Casablanca. After this event, the Government of Morocco put a great deal of effort into the fight against terrorism, making numerous terrorism-related arrests every year. The majority of persons detained are from grassroots jihadists cells; while jihadists in Morocco may be inspired by and in communication with jihadists elsewhere, the Government in Morocco has been largely successful at keeping transnational terrorist networks, such as al-Qa’ida, from establishing a presence in Morocco.
On April 28, 2011, in Marrakesh, a terrorist detonated a remote-controlled bomb in the Argana Café in Jamaa El Fnaa square, a well known landmark in tourist guidebooks. The attack killed 17 people and injured 23, predominantly western tourists. The bomber was apprehended within a week and was recently sentenced to death.
Moroccan security services continue to place a large emphasis on finding and arresting jihadists before they can attack.
Regional terrorism and organized crime:
The most notable player in regional terrorism is al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, often known by its acronym, AQIM. The group, however, has not been able to establish a foothold inside Morocco.
Morocco also experiences an element of organized crime that is rooted in the illegal drug trade, the importation of stolen vehicles from Europe, and the importation and distribution of counterfeit products.
International terrorism or transnational terrorism:
Morocco is neither a safehaven nor focal point for international or transnational terrorism. The Government of Morocco makes every effort to ensure that these groups do not become established in Morocco.
In 2011, Morocco, like many of its Arab neighbors, witnessed a number of demonstrations. In Morocco, they began on February 20 with approximately 35,000 people demonstrating peacefully nationwide. These demonstrations continue weekly but as of early 2012, the numbers of demonstrators in the largest demonstrations (usually in Casablanca and Tangier) were less than 1,000 and even smaller in other towns. There has been sporadic violence between demonstrators and the authorities (and sometimes, counter-demonstrators), but this has been the exception rather than the rule.
In response to potential unrest, the king introduced a new constitution, approved by referendum in July, and parliamentary elections were held in November. While the king is still the head of state, a moderate Islamic party took power and is expected to have more latitude to govern under the new constitution than its predecessors.
Regional events that inflame public opinion can sometimes incite large demonstrations. If these demonstrations are against Israel, they are often also anti-American. While crowds remain generally peaceful, Americans should maintain a low profile. All lawful protests require the authorization of the local police jurisdiction. This allows the police to establish the duration, route, and parameters of the protest. However, impromptu protests have arisen on university campuses, in city centers, or other locations where there are internationally affiliated facilities, and these protests are usually in response to domestic issues. Unauthorized protests have been tolerated recently to a greater extent than they had been in past years. Visitors are advised to avoid all protests, especially those involving direct links to conflicts involving Americans or U.S. policies.
Environmental hazards, such as earthquakes and floods
The rainy season in Morocco is from November to March, and there are often flash floods in the mountainous and desert areas of the country. These floods can cause landslides and damage roads, making them impassable. In addition, strong rain can overwhelm drainage systems and cause flooding. During heavy rains in November of 2010, major roadways including the high-speed toll roads were closed for hours and side roads for days due to standing water.
Morocco does experience, on occasion, strong earthquakes. There have been damaging earthquakes in both the north of Morocco, in the vicinity of Al Hoceima, and in the south, in Agadir. Strong earthquakes, however, are relatively rare.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
Few industrial accidents are reported in Morocco. Trucks are often overladen and poorly maintained; it is common to see them overturned and broken-down along highways. See the road safety section above for more information.
Kidnappings are not prevalent in Morocco, but there have been increasing numbers of abductions of westerners by terrorist in the West African Sahel, particularly in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and the southern desert regions of Algeria.
Drug and Narcoterrorism
The drug trade is thoroughly entrenched in Morocco. The primary drugs exported are cannabis derivatives. Most of the illegal drugs produced or transported through Morocco are destined for European markets. Morocco has become a transit country for cocaine traffickers who funnel their product from South American countries into sub-Saharan countries and then move it via Morocco into Europe. As a policy, the Government of Morocco places a great deal of effort into fighting narcotics trafficking, and while Moroccan authorities have on occasion been implicated in assisting traffickers, when caught, they are tried and punished. There is not a great deal of narco-related violence in Morocco. Penalties for possession of narcotics are severe, and suspected traffickers will be dealt with harshly.
How to handle incidents of police detention or harassment
Police harassment of visitors and foreign nationals, especially Americans, is very rare. There have been incidents where American are arrested or detained. Any American arrested or experiencing legitimate police harassment should contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca.
Where to turn for assistance if you become a victim of a crime and local police telephone numbers:
The Moroccan police force is based on the French system, with the “Sûreté Nationale” enforcing laws in the urban areas and the Royal Gendarmerie in the rural areas. Moroccan law enforcement officials are well trained, with many attending international training programs provided by a variety of countries. However, the police are understaffed and in some cases underequipped. The Moroccan police generally respond effectively to a report of a foreign victim of crime. The familiarity of the police with the people and areas they patrol often results in quick arrests of perpetrators. Therefore, it is important that all crimes be reported in a timely manner. All police officers speak French or Arabic, but English translation may not be readily available. In the event a visitor is the victim of a crime and requires assistance, the visitor should contact American Citizen Services at the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca.
Morocco has adequate medical services available in the larger cities, but the quality of care diminishes elsewhere. The medical facilities and hospitals in Rabat and Casablanca can treat most general illnesses and can provide emergency trauma care. However, specialized care, which is widely available in the United States, is not as easily accessible in Morocco. French and Arabic are widely spoken by medical personnel; English is less common. Over-the-counter drugs that may be obtained from pharmacies located throughout large cities may be difficult or impossible to find in the smaller cities or rural areas of the country. Specialty prescription medication may be difficult to locate even in Rabat or Casablanca.
In the event of a medical emergency or serious traffic accident, immediate ambulance services are usually not available. The numbers below represent a sample of medical services available but should not be interpreted as recommended by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General.
Contact information for local hospitals and clinics:
Police Emergency Service: 190 (dialed from al local cell phone)
Fire Department/Emergency Ambulance: 150 (dialed from a local cell phone)
Private Ambulance Service: +212-537-72-7272 (Rabat); +212-522-25-2525 (Casablanca)
Private Clinics and Hospitals:
Agdal Clinic (Rabat): +212-537-67-0505
Nations Unies (UN) Clinic (Rabat): +212-537-67-0505
Clinique Badr (Casablanca): +212-522-49-2800
Zerktouni Clinic (Casablanca): +212-522-25-3300
Polyclinic du Sud (Marrakesh): +212-524-44-7999
Assalam clinic (Tangier): +212-539-32-2558
Air ambulance services
Union Marocaine d’Assistance: 0522-45-0000. This is a company that can arrange a variety of medical transport and services within Morocco and also air evacuation to Europe. They will need verification of ability to pay up front. English is spoken.
There are other global air evacuation services available; travelers should consider informing themselves of insurance and flight options before leaving home.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Some criminals specifically target tourists in order to steal cash or valuables. It is important to make oneself a harder target to thieves. This may include, but is not limited to, dressing in a more conservative manner, not displaying a large amount of currency, protecting smart phones from being easily snatched, carrying wallets in front pockets for men, ensuring that purses and backpacks are carried securely, and not wearing elaborate jewelry or watches. Simply remaining aware of one’s surroundings and looking to see who is in your vicinity is an effective means of dissuading potential thieves.
Visitors, especially females, should make a concerted effort to travel in pairs and avoid walking alone at night.
Establishments that could be perceived as catering to U.S. or Western visitors or owned by western companies, such as hotels, clubs, restaurants, etc., could be potential targets for terrorism. Visitors should remain particularly alert and informed during periods of heightened tension in the country and the region. It is important to make special efforts to reduce one’s profile, attempt to blend into the society as much as possible, and not draw unwanted attention to oneself.
The Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat and at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca remains the best sources of information for the latest on the security situation in Morocco.
Utilize the Consular Information Sheet at www.travel.state.gov for additional travel information as well as the latest travel warnings and public announcements regarding the security/safety situation in the country or region.
Embassy contact information
U.S. Embassy: +212-537-76-2265
U.S. Embassy (after hours): +212-537-76-9639
U.S. Consulate General Casablanca: +212-522-26-4550
U.S. Consulate General American Citizen Services: +212-661-79-7900
OSAC Country Council
There is currently a Country Council in Casablanca. For OSAC, please contact the Regional Security Officer in Casablanca.