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Cablegate: From Denial to Fear - This Summer, Casablancans Talk About

VZCZCXYZ0010
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHCL #0148/01 2081358
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 271358Z JUL 07
FM AMCONSUL CASABLANCA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7786
INFO RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 8044
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 0801
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 2910
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 2035
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT 2271
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0569
RUEHMD/AMEMBASSY MADRID 3739

UNCLAS CASABLANCA 000148

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PREL PGOV PHUM MO
SUBJECT: FROM DENIAL TO FEAR - THIS SUMMER, CASABLANCANS TALK ABOUT
TERROR THREAT


1. (U) This cable is sensitive but unclassified, please protect
accordingly.

2. (SBU) Summary: Despite the calm facade in Casablanca since the
GOM raised the terrorism threat level on July 6, there is little
doubt that its impact has been significant. The July
announcement raised questions here about personal safety as well as
concerns about the effect on Morocco's economy, particularly its
profitable tourism sector. Many Casablancans we have spoken to are
convinced that the terror threat is exaggerated, while others have
clearly changed their views on the tranquility they once took for
granted. Either way, the subject of terrorism in Morocco is finding
its way into every conversation during the long Casablanca summer.
End Summary.

-------------------------------
Morocco Raises its Threat Level
-------------------------------

3. (SBU) On July 6, the GOM raised its terrorism threat level to
maximum. The government reported that it had no specific threat
information but was raising the level due to a number of factors,
among them, the upcoming Throne Day holiday, celebrating the
monarchy, and the return of thousands of Moroccans living abroad for
the annual summer pilgrimage to the homeland. Most recently, in a
move which reinforced concerns here, the Al-Qa'ida Organization in
the Islamic Maghreb has publicly warned of its intention to proceed
with a violent campaign against targets in North Africa.

--------------------------------------
Reactions to Maximum Threat Level Vary
--------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Initial responses to the increase in the threat level
ranged from minimal to dramatic throughout the city. One contact
related a story, the day after the threat level announcement,
regarding the reaction of her father. The father, a political party
founding member and close personal friend and informal advisor to
the King, called her from his hospital bed in Paris to tell her not
to go out of the house for the weekend due to the imminent danger.
Other contacts have said that, as with the March and April bombings
in Casablanca, they were initially cautious about where they went in
the city, staying away from crowded spots most likely to be
targeted. Still others when asked what they thought of the maximum
threat level announcement replied "what announcement?"

5. (SBU) While some Casablancans are choosing to stay away from
large gatherings, for others the choice is being made for them. The
president of a Casablanca NGO and recipient of MEPI funding told
poloff that the organization was forced to cancel a July event to
promote youth involvement in the upcoming September elections. The
NGO canceled the event when local government officials refused to
allow it to go forward due to insufficient security forces in the
neighborhood. The inability to provide sufficient security is
surprising considering Casablanca is in the process of deploying
thousands of new police officers in the city. The NGO is hopeful
that local officials will allow them to reschedule the concert in
August.

6. (U) In a show of support for the GOM, one Moroccan business
contact expressed his backing for the Minister of the Interior's
call for Moroccan citizens to be watchful of what is happening
around them. He believes that the time has come for "all of us to
take responsibility." This sentiment has not been echoed by all
Moroccans however. An article on terrorism in the recent issue of
weekly news magazine, Le Journal, suggests that the GOM wants its
citizens to become "informers." The article goes on to say that if
this is the case, it proves that Moroccan security and intelligence
forces are incapable of accomplishing the task of stopping
terrorists.

------------------
Economic Backlash
------------------

7. (U) In the past few weeks, more than one shop owner in the
popular Maarif shopping district has said that their business is
down. "Why didn't they (the GOM) just keep their mouths shut" a
shopkeeper asked poloff recently while discussing the threat level
announcement, "there is nothing we can do about it and it just
scares people away." While there appear to be many peopleQn the
streets of Casablanca this July, some locals say it is far fewer
than normal for this time of year, a time when many Moroccans living
abroad normally come home for a summer holiday. Restaurant owners
note that business is generally down this summer, because of
security fears, they believe.

8. (SBU) Moreover, there is concern that the current security
situation may affect Morocco's important tourism industry. The
sector, which in 2005 was responsible for nearly 10 percent of
Morocco's GDP, has been growing exponentially for the past few
years. The question on many Casablancans' minds is whether the
threat of terrorism in the kingdom will affect this trend. A recent
newspaper article claimed that after the March and April bombings
there were cancellations of reservations in tourist destinations
like Marrakech and Agadir and more after the threat level was raised
in July. These claims will be difficult to substantiate, however,
until after the high tourist season ends. In Casablanca, the owner
of a new boutique hotel catering to European businessmen told poloff
that his business has definitely slowed since the terrorist
incidents in late spring and has not picked back up.

-------------------
Optimism or Naivete
-------------------

9. (SBU) Comment: There are still many in Morocco, including local
government officials, who seem convinced that Algeria's large-scale
terrorism will never touch them. Some cite the increased police
presence in Casablanca as a good sign that the GOM has the situation
in hand. Checkpoints have become commonplace in and around the
city. Increased arrests of drug smugglers and illegal migrants,
they claim, demonstrate that the GOM is in control. But most
importantly, the optimistic tell us, is the fact that terror and
suicide bombing is not part of Moroccan culture. However, more
pessimistic Casablancans admit sadly that culture is always evolving
and that Moroccan extremists are now a reality. End Comment

GREENE

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