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Morocco 2015 Crime and Safety Report

Near East > Morocco; Near East > Morocco > Casablanca; Near East > Morocco > Rabat

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Rating: Medium (Rabat), High (Casablanca)

Crime Threats

Generally, crime does not pose a significant threat to Americans in Morocco, though the threat is greater in urban and tourist areas. The majority of crimes against tourists and visitors are reported in Marrakech, followed by Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, and Rabat. Pickpockets and bag snatchers may target pedestrians, especially in larger urban areas. 

ATMs are generally safe to use if normal precautions are observed. In late 2014, police in Marrakech seized skimming equipment affixed to two ATMs before accounts were compromised. Electronic ATM fraud, however, has not been a significant problem. 

Firearms are not common; most armed assailants use edged weapons (knives, razors, daggers). 

Areas of Concern

No area within Morocco is considered “off-limits.” Travel to the Western Sahara is possible, though visitors should be aware of the political importance of the area to the government; high-profile visits or visitors may be monitored.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

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, heavy snow can close roadways in mountainous areas.

Traffic accidents are a major concern. On average, more than 11 Moroccans die in motor vehicle accidents every day; the fatality rate for motor vehicle accidents is approximately twice that of the U.S. 

Drivers are erratic and often fail to stop or yield when required. A wide variety of vehicles (bicycles, scooters, donkey carts, slower-moving utility vehicles) share the road. Many cars are older and poorly maintained. Trucks are often overladen and poorly maintained; it is common to see them overturned or broken down along highways. It is commonplace for drivers to execute right turns from the left lane and vice-versa. 

Speed limits are clearly marked; gendarmerie and police radar speed traps are frequent along highways and toll roads. If stopped for speeding, expect a fine. It is common for police to stand in the road and wave vehicles over. 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.

Visitors who self-drive must have their passport and driver’s license with them and will be required to present these documents 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 U.S. Legitimate fines can be paid on the spot. 

Public Transportation Conditions 

“Petit taxis” are common in most cities and hold up to three people. These taxis often use a meter. Each town has its own particular color for petit taxis; they are red in Casablanca and blue in Rabat. Seatbelts might not work. Petit taxis cannot be used to travel between cities. 

“Grand taxis” are white Mercedes that use 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.

Trains are primarily used for transportation between large cities but do not service all cities. Morocco’s train network is extensive. Train destinations and times can be located on the ONCF website: www.oncf.ma, which is only in French and Arabic). 

Casablanca has a limited subway system, which is used primarily by commuters and individuals accessing the airport. 

Casablanca and the Rabat-Salé area have new, modern tram systems. 

Travelers need to keep an eye on their belongings when using any type of public transport.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

In response to potential unrest, the King introduced a new Constitution, approved by referendum in July 2011, and parliamentary elections were held that November. While the king is still the head of state, a moderate Islamic party took power, gaining more latitude to govern under the new Constitution. The current government, under the tutelage of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and his Justice and Development Party (abbreviated to PJD in French), has embarked on an agenda seeking to improve the economy and the justice system. 

Political Violence Rating: Medium

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

On May 16, 2003, 33 people were killed by 12 suicide bombers in Casablanca. Thereafter, the government put a great deal of effort into fighting terrorism, making numerous terrorism-related arrests every year since. Moroccan security services continue to place a large emphasis on finding and arresting potential terrorist cells before they become operational. The majority of those detained are from grassroots jihadist cells. While these cells may be inspired by and in communication with jihadists elsewhere, the government largely has been successful at keeping transnational terrorist networks from establishing a firm presence in Morocco.

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

On April 28, 2011, a terrorist detonated a remote-controlled bomb in in Marrakesh’s 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 sentenced to death.

While there have been no attacks since 2011, there have been extremist calls for attacks in Morocco targeting government institutions/personalities and Western interests/soft targets. Security services routinely report disrupting terrorist cells recruiting or financing Moroccan fighters to take up jihad in Iraq and Syria. Other broken up cells have expressed aspirations to conduct operations inside Morocco, but none have had developed plans or the means to carry out such operations. Security services have discussed concern that Moroccan fighters would return to the Kingdom and conduct attacks domestically. There are upward of 1,500 known Moroccan fighters that have traveled to Iraq and Syria. 

Terrorism Rating: Medium

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Regional events that inflame public opinion can incite large demonstrations. If these demonstrations are against Israel, they are often also anti-American. In September 2012, following the release of an online film entitled “The Innocence of Muslims,” a few hundred protestors converged on the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca. While crowds remain generally peaceful and the vast majority of incidents are not anti-American, Americans should maintain a low profile and avoid demonstrations.

Civil Unrest 

In 2011, Morocco witnessed a number of demonstrations. Protests began on February 20 with approximately 35,000 people demonstrating peacefully nationwide. These demonstrations continued weekly, but by the end of 2012, the numbers of demonstrators in the largest demonstrations (Casablanca, Tangier) were less than 1,000 and were smaller in other towns. There has been sporadic violence between demonstrators and authorities (and sometimes counter-demonstrators), but this has been the exception rather than the rule.

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 domestic issues. Unauthorized protests have been tolerated to a greater extent than they have been in the past. 

Religious/Ethnic Violence 

Religious or ethnic violence is not common. The government places strict controls on religious preaching; for more than a quarter century Imams have been under close state control. Proselytism (outside of Islam) is prohibited, and as recently as 2010, proselyting evangelical Christians have been deported.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Environmental hazards mainly revolve around flooding and the occasional earthquake. The rainy season (November-March) often results in flash floods in the mountainous and desert areas. These floods can cause landslides and damage roads, making them impassable. In addition, strong rain can overwhelm drainage systems and cause flooding. Major roadways, including the high-speed toll roads, have been closed for hours and side roads for days due to standing water. In November 2014, Morocco experienced significant rainfall that caused widespread flooding and infrastructure damage in southern Morocco. 

Morocco does experience occasional strong earthquakes. There have been damaging earthquakes in the north (near Al Hoceima), and the south (in Agadir). Strong earthquakes are relatively rare.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

Few industrial accidents are reported in Morocco. Hazardous chemical spills on highways are a top concern for the government. Aging buildings, especially in the Medina or “Old City” of major cities, can be hazardous. Building collapses are not common, but they have occurred. In July 2014, a building collapsed in Casablanca, leaving at least 15 people dead and over 50 wounded. 

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts

Moroccan law is limited in the realm of economic espionage/intellectual property thefts. On October 1, 2011, Morocco signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). In the absence of legal tendencies, companies must implement internal control mechanisms to counter this type of threat. 

Privacy Concerns

Privacy concerns are also not handled in the same way as in the U.S.

Personnel Background Concerns

Women who are alone or in pairs in an isolated setting may find themselves 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. In the past year, assaults on American females have also occurred in broad daylight and at public events with many witnesses, though these instances are extremely rare. There have also been reports of sexual assaults in nightclubs in Marrakesh.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons may face a great deal of pressure/discrimination. While there is a perceived level of tolerance, homosexuality is illegal, and open displays of affection will attract unwanted attention.

Drug-related Crimes

The drug trade is thoroughly entrenched in Morocco. The primary drugs exported are cannabis derivatives. Most of the drugs produced or transported are destined for European markets. Morocco has become a transit country for cocaine traffickers who funnel their product from South America into sub-Saharan countries and into Europe. The government places a great deal of effort into fighting narcotics trafficking, and while authorities have been implicated in assisting traffickers, when caught, they are tried and punished. Penalties for possession of narcotics are severe, and suspected traffickers will be dealt with harshly. There is not a great deal of narco-related violence reported in Morocco.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings are not prevalent, but there have been a number of abductions of Westerners by terrorist in the Sahel, particularly in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and the southern desert regions of Algeria. 

Police Response

Law enforcement officials are well trained, with many attending international training programs. However, the police are understaffed and in some cases underequipped. A quick response and the familiarity of the police with the people and area they patrol often results in quick arrests of perpetrators if crimes are reported in a timely manner. In general, however, the police primarily rely on confessions to determine culpability. All police officers speak French or Arabic, but English translation may not be readily available. 

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 have been 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.

Crime Victim Assistance

Police generally respond effectively to a report of a foreign victim of crime. Victims are often present during interrogations of suspects; this can result in an uncomfortable situation for a victim. 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. 

Police/Security Agencies 

The 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.

Medical Emergencies

Morocco has adequate medical services 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 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 in large cities may be difficult to impossible to find in the smaller cities or rural areas. 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. 

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

Union Marocaine d’Assistance (Tel: 0522-45-0000) can arrange a variety of medical transport and services within Morocco and 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.

Recommended Insurance Posture

Travelers should consider informing themselves of insurance and flight options before leaving home.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

For additional information on vaccines and health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/morocco?s_cid=ncezid-dgmq-travel-single-001.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Situational Awareness Best Practices 

Maintaining situational awareness, careful control of your belongings, and walking with your bag/purse well protected will significantly mitigate the risk of petty theft. One common scenario is for two assailants on a scooter to approach the victim; the passenger will snatch valuables from the victim. Pedestrians walking alone in isolated areas, or late at night, are at greater risk for being targeted. Gratuitous displays of wealth may attract unwanted attention and increase the risk of being targeted. Dress in a conservative manner, do not display a large amount of currency, protect smart phones from being easily snatched, carry wallets in front pockets for men, ensure that purses/backpacks are carried securely, and do not wear elaborate jewelry/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. 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.

Visitors, especially females, should make a concerted effort to travel in pairs and avoid walking alone at night. Tourists are advised to travel in pairs/groups, drink in moderation, maintain control over drinks, and never accept drinks from strangers. Visitors should avoid being out alone and during late-night or early morning hours. At night, particularly, avoid areas that are poorly illuminated or are secluded.

If you are with a friend or a colleague, have them watch the surrounding area as you are focused on completing your transaction at an ATM.

Americans 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; single-family homes should have a wall that discourages intruders from entering the premises. Apartment dwellers should consider the possibility of intruders gaining access via adjacent balconies or structures and ensure that there are functional locks or other protection for areas vulnerable to unauthorized entry.

Establishments that could be perceived as catering to U.S. or Western visitors or those owned by Western companies could be potential targets for terrorism. Visitors should remain particularly alert and informed during periods of heightened tension in the country and the region. 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation 

Embassy of the United States of America
Km 5.7, Avenue Mohamed VI
Souissi, Rabat 10170
Morocco

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +212-537-63-7200
U.S. Mission Morocco Duty Officer (after hour emergencies only): +212-661-13-1939
Website: http://morocco.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts

Consulate General Casablanca: http://casablanca.usconsulate.gov/

Embassy Guidance

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. Utilize the country specific information at www.travel.state.gov for additional travel information and for the latest Travel Warnings and Public Announcements regarding the security/safety situation in the country or region. All travelers should enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program: https://step.state.gov/step/ 

OSAC Country Council Information

The OSAC Country Council is in Casablanca (https://www.osac.gov/pages/CountryHome.aspx?CatalogLocationId=337). OSAC Country Council meets on a quarterly basis and has over 40 members. Casablanca is the largest city in North Africa, is considered a regional hub for exports, and is home to the American Chamber of Commerce in Morocco (http://www.amcham-morocco.com/), which is the only country in Africa to have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The RSO in Casablanca can be reached at Tel: +212-522-26-4550 or DS_RSO_Casablanca@state.gov. To reach OSAC’s Near East team, please email OSACNEA@state.gov.