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Morocco 2010 Crime & Safety Report

Near East; Near East > Morocco

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

Crime Threats 

 

In general, crime in Morocco does not pose a great threat to Americans visiting or working in the country. However, every individual visiting or working in a foreign country should take security precautions and should be aware of personal safety issues. Morocco and the U.S. are similar in that crime trends are generally higher in areas where there is a high concentration of people and tourists. The same precautions that one might take in a large U.S. city should also be exercised in Moroccan cities.

 

Property crimes are the most common form of crime in Morocco and range from simple pick-pocketing to home burglaries. In particular, pick-pockets and purse snatchers generally work in crowded city centers and areas frequented by tourists. Higher concentrations of property crime may occur in or around the medinas (outdoor markets generally located in city centers), city centers, outdoor monuments and historic buildings, banking areas or automatic teller machines (ATMs), or other areas where there is high pedestrian traffic.  Visitors should pay particular attention when utilizing ATMs, as these areas are often targeted by thieves. Pick-pockets and purse snatchers have become increasingly organized and professional and often work in teams to increase their chance of success. It is common for thieves to distract would-be victims while accomplices lift wallets, purses and cash from victims.

 

Firearms are not common in Morocco and their possession is strictly controlled by the government. Therefore, firearms are rarely used during armed robberies. Instead, most armed assailants use edged weapons, i.e. knives, razors, and daggers. The number of armed robberies is on the rise in Morocco, with most of these crimes occurring in the larger cities. Although there has been an increase in the number of armed robberies during daylight hours, most still occur at night. Visitors should travel in groups when possible and avoid being out alone during late-night or early morning hours. At night particularly, areas that are poorly lit or secluded should be avoided.

 

Road Safety

 

Traffic accidents are a major concern when traveling in Morocco. On average, more than ten Moroccans die in motor vehicle accidents each day. Morocco experiences a high number of traffic accidents each year varying from simple “fender-benders” to fatalities involving other vehicles or pedestrians. 

 

Generally, local drivers do not abide by traffic laws. Visitors wishing to drive in Morocco must have passports and international driver permits available and may be required to present both if stopped by the local police or Royal Gendarmerie. U.S. citizens should be aware that police officers or gendarmes might suggest settling an infraction outside of normal judicial proceedings. This is not recommended but is a common practice in Morocco. 

 

Royal Gendarmerie checkpoints and speeding control points (using radar) are frequently set up outside of cities and along highways. These checkpoints are established to verify drivers’ documents, inspect a vehicle’s safety equipment, and issue citations for speeding. Unlike the U.S., where police use vehicles to stop vehicles, it is common for Moroccan police to stand on or near the road and direct drivers to stop with hand and arm signals. 

 

Moroccan roads vary from high-speed toll roads to secondary roads, which may be poorly maintained. Road conditions may vary by season. During the winter months and periods of heavy rain or snow, roads may become entirely impassable, flooded, and/or washed away.

 

Public transportation in Morocco includes taxis, buses, and trains. Taxis and buses are operated throughout most cities, but these vehicles are often poorly maintained, overcrowded, and may be operated in a reckless manner. It is common to see a mid-sized sedan taxi with six passengers weaving in and out of traffic. Smaller taxis called “Petits Taxis” are recommended for travelers and are limited to three passengers. “Petits Taxis” can be found in most large cities in Morocco and are painted according to the respective cities where they operate. For example, “Petits Taxis” are painted blue in Rabat, red in Casablanca, and brown with black roofs in Marrakesh. 

 

Trains are primarily used for transportation between large cities but do not service all cities in Morocco. Train destinations and times can be located on the ONCF website at www.oncf.ma (website currently only in French and Arabic; an English versions is under development). Casablanca has a limited subway system which is used primarily by commuters and individuals accessing the airport. 

 

Political Violence

 

Historical Perspective

 

In 2007, Casablanca experienced terrorist bombings that targeted some of the more populated areas of the city and the U.S. Consulate. No Americans were killed during these attacks, and after investigation, they appeared to be less organized than similar attacks in other parts of the world.

 

Also in 2007, a suicide bomber unsuccessfully targeted a tourist bus in Meknes. To date, Rabat has not experienced a successful terrorist attack. Despite numerous arrests of suspected terrorists in 2009, terrorist cells are still believed to be operating in and around Morocco.

 

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

 

Morocco does have an element of domestic terrorism. However, the primary focus of these groups is on the Moroccan government institutions and secondarily on western and U.S. interests. 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

 

The potential for terrorist attacks against American interests remains high in Morocco, but the Moroccan government continues its efforts to identify, locate, and disrupt Islamic extremists and terrorist cells operating in the country. The Moroccan security services have been successful in arresting and prosecuting members of terrorist cells living and operating in Morocco. Individuals arrested in recent years have been linked to radical extremism and are alleged to have ties to regional and international terrorist groups.

 

Civil Unrest  

 

In January 2009, Casablanca and Rabat experienced large public protests over the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. These protests ranged from a few hundred protesters to as many as 50,000 in Rabat. The majority of the protests were peaceful, but some did include flag burning and anti-American and Israeli chants and slogans.  In December 2009 and extending through January 2010, organizers began preparations for similar protests to commemorate the anniversary of the conflict. Organizers scheduled the first and potentially the largest demonstration for December 27, 2009 and planned additional demonstrations continuing through January 26, 2010 (the anniversary of the cease-fire). However, only 300 demonstrators participated in the protest on December 27, 2009, and continued participation has been extremely low.

 

All lawful protests require the authorization of the local police. 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 are usually in response to world events or the status of the Western Sahara, which continues to be a politically charged issue in Morocco. These protests have the potential to become more violent as they result from inflamed public opinion. Police will often take active steps to prevent or disperse unauthorized protests. Visitors are advised to avoid all protests, especially those linked to conflicts involving U.S. policies.

 

Post-Specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

The rainy season in Morocco is from November to March and flash floods often occur in the mountainous areas of the country. Floods can materialize quickly and impact individuals traveling in the rural areas of Morocco by causing landslides and damaging otherwise navigable roads to the extent they become impassable. In addition, flash floods and extensive rains can also have a direct impact in cities where drainage systems are not sufficient to remove excess water. Many streets become flooded and impassable, increasing the propensity for vehicular accidents and traffic delays.

 

Morocco does experience occasional earthquakes, with the most recent event occurring in December 2009 in the northern region of the country, but it was felt as far south as Marrakesh.  Scientist recorded the magnitude of that earthquake at 5.5 and pinpointed the epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 300 kilometers north of Tangier. There was no damage and no reports of injury due to the event. Earthquakes are relatively infrequent in Morocco and rarely result in damage or injuries, although a strong tremor did destroy the city of Agadir in 1960.

  

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

 

Few industrial accidents are reported in Morocco. Automobile accidents occur often and vary from the simple fender-benders to accidents involving fatalities. These accidents are due in part to the lack of adherence to established traffic laws and limited driver training. It is not uncommon to see drivers disregard traffic lights, drive against the flow of traffic, or fail to maintain designated lanes of travel. Drivers should pay particular attention when traveling late at night or early in the morning when there is limited traffic. At these times, individuals are less likely to obey traffic laws and have a greater likelihood of being under the influence of alcohol. 

 

Some taxis, in particular “grand taxis” (inter-urban taxis) or “taxis blancs” (white taxis) add to traffic problems because they are overcrowded and pay little attention to the rules of the road. Visitors who decide to drive in Morocco should remain attentive and avoid distractions. The Moroccan record for train and aviation safety is good, although buses have a spottier safety record.

 

Kidnappings

 

Kidnappings are not prevalent in Morocco, but there have been increasing numbers of abductions of westerners by terrorists in the West African Sahel, particularly in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and the southern desert regions of Algeria. It is possible that terrorists could develop an operational capability in the remote desert regions of Morocco, although as of early 2010, this does not seem to be the case.

 

Drug and Narcoterrorism

 

The drug trade is thoroughly entrenched in Morocco. The primary drugs exported are cannabis derivatives. Most of the illegal drugs produced in or transported through Morocco are destined for European markets. Morocco is a transit country for narco-traffickers who funnel drugs from Sub-Saharan Africa and South American countries to Europe. On occasion, Moroccan law enforcement officers and military have been implicated in narcotics smuggling.  Penalties for possession of hashish/marijuana may be severe, and suspected traffickers will be dealt with harshly.

 

Police Response

 

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 Americans were arrested or detained. Any American arrested or experiencing legitimate police harassment should contact American Citizen Services (ACS) at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat or the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca.

 

Where to Turn for Assistance

 

The Moroccan police force is based on the French system. Laws are enforced by the police in urban areas and by the gendarmes in 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 area they patrol often results in quick arrests of perpetrators. Therefore, it is important that visitors report all crimes in a timely manner and provide detailed statements. 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, ACS should be contacted.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Morocco has adequate medical services available in the larger cities, with care diminishing as one travels further into rural areas. 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, but 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 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 information below represents a sample of medical services available but should not be interpreted as a recommendation by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate General.

 

Moroccan health officials have plans in place and specific hospitals identified to absorb and treat large outbreaks of H1N1 in Morocco. Cases of H1N1 have been identified in Morocco involving both Moroccans and Americans. However, the vaccine is currently available to the population and is being distributed countrywide. It is unclear what the final outcome will be for this pandemic, but individuals experiencing symptoms consistent with those associated with H1N1 should seek medical attention immediately.

 

Contact Information

 

Police Emergency Service:  19 (dialed from a local cell phone)

Fire Department/Emergency Ambulance:  15 (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):  +212-537-67-7777

Nations Unies (UN) Clinic (Rabat):  +212-537-67-0505

Clinic Ped Atfal (Casablanca):  +212-522-49-381818

Zerktouni Clinic (Casablanca):  +212-522-25-3300

Polyclinic du Sud (Marrakesh):  +212-524-44-7999

Assalam clinic (Tangier):  +212-539-32-2558

 

For more medical clinics and specialty offices, please visit www.casablanca.org.

 

Air Ambulance Services

 

Air Ambulance Serve (Rota, Spain):  +34-56-82-3555

 

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

 

It is important, while traveling in Morocco, to be aware that some criminals specifically target visitors. Most visitors who are victims of crime are involved in property crimes. Thus, it is important to make oneself a harder target to thieves. Helpful tips include dressing in a more conservative manner, not displaying large amounts of currency, talking on cell phones in a manner as not to expose the phone to possible snatching, carrying wallets in front pockets for men, ensuring that purse straps are over one shoulder and the head with the purse positioned in the front for women, and not wearing elaborate jewelry or watches.

 

While driving in cities in Morocco, ensure that windows are raised and doors are locked. Criminals may attempt to open doors or reach through windows when the vehicle is stopped at traffic lights. Moroccan law prohibits the use of cellular telephones, without hands-free devices, while operating a motor vehicle, although this law is rarely enforced.

 

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. 

 

The Regional Security Offices at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat and at the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca remain the best sources of information for the latest on the security situation in Morocco.

 

Further Information

 

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. Additional information on the security situation in Morocco is also available from OSAC at

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

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:  +212-522-26-7151

 

Senior Regional Security Officer (Rabat):  Donald Gonneville

Assistant Regional Security Officer (Rabat):  Joshua Godbois

Assistant Regional Security Officer (Rabat):  Enrique “Henry” Laxa

Regional Security Officer (Casablanca):  David Bright

Consular Chief (Casablanca):  Miguel Ordonez

Commercial Officer (Casablanca):  Jane Kitson

American Citizen Services (Casablanca):  Marcy Brown

 

OSAC Country Council

 

Morocco is currently looking to reinvigorate the joint Casablanca/Rabat OSAC Country Council. For additional information on the Country Council program or information on how to join the Morocco Country Council, please contact OSAC headquarters at 571-345-2223 or the RSO at the U.S. Embassy Rabat or U.S. Consulate General Casablanca.