Tue, May 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Police raid poor areas of city of Casablanca


The suicide attacks that killed 28 bystanders have put all of Morocco on edge, but few places were as jittery Sunday as the Casablanca shantytown believed to be the main breeding ground for the bombers.

Police, who have blamed the blasts on Islamic militants, staged raids in the impoverished Sidi Moumen neighborhood on the city's eastern edge and elsewhere in Morocco on Sunday in search of suspects. Dozens have been detained around the country.

For vegetable seller Abdellah Lotfi, the attacks have meant one thing: fear.

"I've been so afraid since the explosions that I tell my children to double-lock the doors when they go home alone," Lotfi said. "I'm afraid a bomb will be thrown into the house."

The blasts killed 28 bystanders and 13 of the 14 bombers Friday night, and damaged a Spanish restaurant, a Jewish community center and cemetery and a hotel. The fifth attack damaged the Belgian consulate, which faces a Jewish-owned Italian restaurant.

The government said Sunday they had identified eight of the attackers, and said most of them were from the Sidi Moumen neighborhood, known as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. The justice minister said all of the attackers were Moroccan.

Sidi Moumen is rife with contradictions: Cows nose through garbage heaps reeking and sewers overflow onto the streets under billboards advertising new, pastel-colored apartment buildings.

The neighborhood is a mix of the secular and Muslim conservatism. Girls with uncovered heads pass by a vendor of caramelized nuts with a long beard and flowing white robes.

On Sunday, a tight security presence was evident with officers at a checkpoint forcing cars coming into the area to slow down so they could look at the occupants.

"We're living under tighter security since the explosions," Lotfi said. "Now, there are four or five patrols per day in my small part of the neighborhood, whereas before there was only one."

Life downtown has slowly started returning to normal. Police barriers were lifted in front of Casa de Espana, a popular Spanish restaurant where the deadliest attack took place during a game of bingo.

King Mohammed VI visited the blast sites and a hospital where most of the wounded were being treated. At the damaged hotel, he stepped up the cracked stone steps and through the charred entrance for a look before moving to the next site.

At the city morgue, workers nailed together coffins and, chanting "Allahu akbar." -- "God is great." -- put some of the dead in an ambulance to transport them to cemeteries.

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