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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 July, 2004, 04:46 GMT 05:46 UK
Young Moroccans face choice of terror
By Tamsin Smith
BBC correspondent in Casablanca

Most people in Casablanca can point you in the direction of Sidi Moumen, after all it is the city's most notorious slum area.
Sidi Moumen
The satellite dishes offer a glimpse of a better life abroad

A dusty wasteland of low crumbling houses, tangled lines of washing and rubbish heaps.

It looks like any one of the vast deprived urban zones circling Casablanca but this was home to several of the suicide bombers who killed 45 people in the city centre in May 2003.

"We were friends, but he changed completely in just seven months," said Zacharia who went to school with one of the suicide bombers.

He watched his friend's transformation from typical teenager to terrorist under the influence of a group of radical extremists.

"I think they really made him feel important but it's difficult to explain why. We only saw the outward signs - he grew a beard, wouldn't talk, always turned off the television. He then carried a knife everywhere."

Poverty remains

Sidi Moumen has been under close surveillance since the bombings.

Mourad Mouli
My future is finished in Casablanca and in Morocco
Mourad Mouli
The Moroccan authorities have dismantled cells of extremists responsible for recruiting young people.

But the poverty and unemployment facing Morocco's undereducated under 30s is unchanged.

"It's worse for us here now," says one 18-year-old, selling watermelons by the roadside.

"When people see Sidi Moumen written on our identity cards they think we are all terrorists. We will never get real jobs."

Groups of teenagers and young men, many sporting European football shirts stand around from dawn to dusk with nothing to do.

The satellite dishes precariously balanced on every corrugated iron roof provide a glimpse of a better life abroad.

"My only hope is to go to Italy to join my brother," says Mourad Mouli, a flyweight boxer.

"My future is finished in Casablanca and in Morocco. No one here will help young people. They say in Europe there are people who could help me become a professional boxer."

Money

Excluded from the western lifestyles they crave, and ignored by Moroccan society, these feelings of bitterness and frustration can play into the hands of extremists.

In the tiny backroom of his mobile phone accessories stall I meet a young man involved with a radical Islamist group for a short time.

Ahmed Abbadi
We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment
Ahmed Abbadi
Director of Islamic Affairs
"They can attract the youngest people by giving them things, material things, clothes, money to their families - then comes mental influences," he says quietly.

"When you give money to someone you possess them."

Terrorism investigators in both Spain and Morocco are unable to explain why some young men are pushed from radical ideology to violent action.

They do agree that tackling social alienation is important. Morocco's largest Islamist group in parliament, the PJD, is already calling for more Islamic education in schools and less Western influence.

But over a year on from the Casablanca bombings, the government admits it still has not found a solution to the radicalisation of Moroccan youth.

"I'm very anxious. We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment," says Ahmed Abbadi, director of Islamic Affairs appointed by the Moroccan king.

He explains that a lot of research is needed to find the right solution.

"When you have a physical problem, it is easy to find the answer. How to get rid of hunger? Eat. How to get rid of thirst? Drink.

"But when it's a social issue with economic, psychological and historical dimensions, to answer the question 'How to get rid of terrorism?' takes time."

'Hope in death'

But time is not an issue for over 80 voluntary organisations who have already set up projects in Sidi Moumen.

There are courses to improve literacy teach computer skills to teenagers.

"The Islamists aren't responsible for the radicalisation of kids," says Abdellah Zaazaa in charge of the projects.

"It's the responsibility of the Moroccan state which has always lacked democracy and has failed to connect with people at the grass roots of society."

In the absence of real political debate on how to solve these problems, local musicians are calling for change.

"The problem will get worse," warns Reda Allali from reggae group Hoba Hoba Spirit.

"In front of us we have a model of European capitalism which is all about fun and money, and it just doesn't suit people here. So who can give us another way of life? No-one except the extremists.

"It's normal that some young people put their hope in death after life because obviously life will not bring them what they want," he says.


SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Casablanca blasts
17 May 03  |  Photo Gallery


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