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Moroccans Fear Attacks May Wreck Growth
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Moroccans fear a series of suicide bombings in the commercial hub Casablanca may wreck the very economic growth needed to reduce the poverty seen as a breeding ground for jihadist foot soldiers.

Two suicide bombers, Mohamed Baha and his brother Omar, blew themselves up outside US diplomatic offices in Casablanca on Saturday in the first such targeted attacks in four years.

Only the two were killed in the blasts; no one was wounded.

Coming days after a police raid in which three bombers blew themselves up and a fourth was shot, the prospect that more suicide bombers may be at large has raised concerns the menace could hurt foreign investment and tourism at a time when the government is striving to lure both to spur growth.

"Bombers are making the life of the poor worse because there will be less jobs," said Achour Daoudi, a 17-year-old student. "It is better for them to look for ways to improve the situation."

Ahmed Soltani, 57, a Casablanca port worker said: "I'm scarred for our safety and about my children who would face a hard time finding jobs in tourism if investors are frightened."

Tourism officials said bookings have not been cancelled or stays cut short as a result of the bombings. Experts say, however, it is difficult to gauge the impact at this stage, four months before the peak summer tourism season.

"Tourism operators in the world changed their views of the impact of terrorist attacks because attacks are becoming common," Ali Ghannem, head of the Hoteliers National Federation, was quoted by Al Ahdath daily as saying.

But Salima Mossadek, 22, sales executive at a chic clothing store in Casablanca, said: "I feel insecure when I walk on the street and I'm scarred even inside the car when I drive."

Saturday's targeted suicide bombings in Casablanca were the first in Morocco since May 2003, when attackers set off at least five explosions in Casablanca, killing 45 people, including 13 bombers who lived in some of the poorest slums.

Analysts see the most recent blasts in Morocco, and twin explosions that killed 33 people in neighboring Algeria, as the latest signs of a growing threat from radical Islamists in North Africa who have an easy task recruiting among the region's poor.

More than 35 percent of Morocco's 30 million people are poor and more than 40 percent are illiterate. Economists say the wealth gap makes the social picture grim as 10 percent of the rich own 85 percent of the wealth.

Morocco must create 400,000 jobs per year in the next 15 years, compared with an average of 120,000 jobs in the past decade, to prevent mass unemployment from derailing stability, analysts have said.

The government says it has a plan to expand growth and create more than 2.5 million jobs, including 600,000 positions in tourism by 2010.

(China Daily via agencies April 16, 2007)

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