I was relieved when I had to travel to Rabat for the Fulbright Symposium because it meant I would get away from the news coverage of the foiled terrorist attack in Casablanca. Last week, As Sabah published a color picture of the torn body of Abdelfettah Raydi, the 24-year-old man who blew himself up inside a cyber cafe in Sidi Moumen on March 11. Al Massae showed the second terrorist, 17-year-old Youssef Khoudri, while he was transported to Ibn Rochd Hospital. An Nass, meanwhile, printed a photo of him being stitched up. Not to be outdone, La Vie Economique did a dossier on the events, and included a photo of the severed head of Raydi.
Despite the sensationalism, the articles accompanying the photos were, for the most part, well researched and interesting. They included interviews with the man who had alerted police, with witnesses and survivors, and with the terrorists’ family and neighbors. Many journalists asked why nothing had been done about the shantytowns in Sidi Moumen since the attacks of May 2003, and cautioned that more attacks remain possible so long as there is fertile ground for them. But a columnist for Aujourd’hui le Maroc fumed that “barbarians should not be pitied.” (You’d think you were reading Max Boot.)
The details that have emerged certainly give pause: the seizure of 200 kg of explosives in Sidi Moumen; the fact that Raydi had already served two years of prison for suspected Salafi activities before being released in an amnesty in 2005; the claim that it took only two weeks to convince Youssef Khoudri–an illiterate mint seller and sometime drug user who lived in a one-room house with his five siblings and parents–to take part in the attack; the suggestion that the targets included the police headquarters on Zerktouni; and so on.
All this took me back to my work. Large parts of my novel are set in Sidi Moumen and it is difficult to write about something knowing not only that it could happen, but that it does happen. It’s not easy to use one’s imagination while at the same time grappling with a similar reality. In the end, I had to shut off the real in order to focus on the fictional; I had to stop reading the papers–at least until coverage subsides–so I can finish my novel. The symposium came at the right time.