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Casablanca’s ‘killer’ shanty

Casablanca, May 20 (Reuters): The Casablanca bombings changed the lives of many people in Sidi Moumen, a poor district of the city where Moroccan authorities say most of the 12 suicide bombers responsible for the attacks came from.

In a teeming shanty town area, a father worries about his son, picked up in a wave of arrests following last Friday’s attacks on Jewish and Spanish sites which killed 29 people, including eight foreigners.

Less than a mile away, a widow dressed in white mourns her husband, a security guard at a Casablanca hotel who was blown up while trying to stop the bombers from entering the hotel. “My husband loved peace,” Zahra Hassno said, adding that she does not believe that Moroccans could have been responsible for his death.

“They’re not real Moroccans who did this. They are criminals,” her neighbour Hassan Kassimir added. Sidi Moumen, a fast-growing district of some 200,000 people on the outskirts of Casablanca, includes areas of modest apartment blocks and sections of stone and corrugated iron shacks jumbled together as far as the eye can see.

The cry of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer at the nearby mosque rings out over the shanty town, where poverty and unemployment are rife.

The shacks, separated by narrow winding paths packed with children and teenagers, have electricity but no running water. It is an area where Muslim fundamentalist groups are reported to have gained an influence, although local people are reluctant to discuss this issue with outsiders.

One woman walked by with a veil covering her face leaving only a slit for the eyes, a custom that Moroccans say has only begun to be seen in the country in recent years.

Morocco’s justice minister said on Sunday the bombers may be linked to the Assirat al Moustaquim group (The Righteous Path), which hit local headlines in February 2002 when some of its members stoned to death a man in Sidi Moumen.

The group’s members had sought to impose strict Islamic law, harassing women as well as mixed-sex couples seen in public.

Residents say, that since Friday’s blasts, police have come to the shanty town each evening to make arrests.

Moustapha Aksbi, 60, said police had detained his 28-year-old son Jamal on Sunday. He said his son had a beard — common among Muslim fundamentalists — but he had no links to Islamists and did not belong to any association. Jamal, who could not even write his name, had recently begun to take reading and writing lessons from an imam at a local mosque, he added.

Fetache Hadaoui, another resident, said the bombings were shameful. “This has always been a peaceful, safe country,” said the 66-year-old father of 12 children, speaking through an interpreter.

In an apartment in a more prosperous part of Sidi Moumen, the widow of Hassan Karib, the slain guard of the Farah hotel, sat in mourning, surrounded by her four young children, relatives and friends.

She had never thought anything like this could happen to her husband. Asked if she thought he was a hero, she said: “I think like any wife who has lost her husband. It's a very deep feeling.”

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