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In a statement signed by "Abou Walid Almaghrebi Alansari" and published August 27th on several Islamist and nationalist web forums, AQIM said the coastal cities should be "recovered by force" from the control of Spain, and turned into an "area of attrition" against the "occupying crusade enemy" and "stealer of Andalusia".
Al-Qaeda is hoping to take advantage of last month's Spain-Morocco border tensions for propaganda purposes, argued Moroccan researcher Mohamed Darif. The message appeared within days of a demonstration by Moroccans in Ceuta.
"Al-Qaeda is always trying to make use of current events and issues in order to replenish its image by presenting itself as the defender of Islam and Muslims, rather than as a terrorist organisation," Darif said.
The message, however, does not pose any real threat against Morocco or Spain, since al-Qaeda has "recently been dealt strong blows in Algeria and seen a drop of its activities in the Sahel and Sahara region," he said.
As to the call to make Ceuta and Melilla an "area of attrition" against Spain, Darif believes that realising this goal is unlikely, given that Spanish security and military presence in the two cities is strong. In addition, Morocco would never accept the presence of al-Qaeda-affiliated elements in territory adjacent to Ceuta and Melilla.
Morocco has no war intentions against Spain, Darif said. Rather, Morocco's policy towards the two Spanish cities depends on "a peaceful approach that bets on the social and economic dimension through ambitious developmental plans for the areas surrounding the two cities", he explained.
Abdellah Rami, a member of the Moroccan Centre for Social Studies, agrees that the AQIM message is nothing more than incitement and propaganda.
"Contrary to what was published by some Spanish newspapers, which exaggerated the importance of the message, the matter is not related to a statement issued by al-Qaeda, an al-Qaeda-approved media institution, or by any of the senior leaders of the organisation," he said.
"It's just an article written by an anonymous person in one of the forums that are close to al-Qaeda. Therefore, it's difficult to give any credibility to this message because it is difficult to determine its real source."
The web posting is most likely from an entity that wants to affect Spanish-Moroccan relations, "which are going through a special stage in the wake of recent tensions on the borders of the two countries", Rami said.
Like Darif, Rami noted the reduction in AQIM's strength after it was forced to pull back southwards toward the Sahel region following the tightening of security.
"AQIM is today living in a state of weakness," he said. "Its activities are now largely focussed on the kidnapping of foreigners in northern Mali and Mauritania as a way to get money."
The internet message, he told Magharebia, is merely "part of the insidious media activity of the terrorist organisation, which covers an unlimited scope of issues".
And since "the map of al-Qaeda's enemies and opponents is not limited", the terror group in turn wants to rail against everything, Rami added.
A local Moroccan NGO head was also dismissive of the al-Qaeda web post.
"Whether it was al-Qaeda, intelligence agencies or any other entities, this message is issued by entities that are hostile to Morocco," said Jamal Makmani of "Yes We Can," a Moroccan civil society organisation headquartered in Fnideq, with branches in Ceuta and other Spanish cities.
"They are trying to pressure the Moroccan relations with Spain and divert attention away from the real problems that these relations are facing," Makmani said.