What Happens in Tangiers Stays in Tangiers
In October 2008, I travelled to Morocco for nine days to report on al-Qaeda’s use of the internet to recruit potential terrorists and the other side of that coin, which was the difficulty the United States faced in countering al-Qaeda messaging.
Al-Qaeda had been successful in recruiting Moroccans to travel to Iraq to carry out attacks and to fight U.S. forces. While Morocco was one of the more moderate countries in the Middle East, there were still neighborhoods where young, often uneducated, males were easy prey for terrorist recruiters.
Terrorists didn’t just recruit Moroccans to travel to other countries. In 2003, Moroccans from a poor neighborhood in Casablanca carried out five coordinated suicide attacks in the city. Twelve attackers blew themselves up and killed an additional 33 people. In 2007—on the third anniversary of the Madrid train bombings, which also involved Moroccans—a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Casablanca neighborhood.
While Morocco in and of itself wasn’t the most dangerous place and wouldn’t likely scratch my itch of getting into the shit, it was a place I had long wanted to visit. Plus, I of course was going to visit the neighborhoods where terrorist attacks had taken place or where terrorists had been finding recruits—that added some danger and badassery to the trip. While Morocco as a country was a major tourism destination, I would at least be going to places in the country that were not front and center in the travel guides.
A friend in D.C. connected me with a Moroccan journalist who provided me a wealth of contacts. None of the preferred fixers was available, but I was able to connect with a couple of Moroccan journalists who could work with me in a fixer-by-committee setup so that I would have adequate coverage.
With things reasonably well sorted, I set out for Morocco on October 18, 2008. I flew through Paris, and seated next to me on the flight from Paris to Casablanca was a young, and attractive, Moroccan woman. Needless to say (but I am in fact saying it, which really means “needless to say” is probably one of the most pointless figures of speech in the English language), I started flirting with her. We ended up in a deep conversation about Morocco and my story. She offered to help guide me around the airport to buy a phone card and catch the train into the city.
After we cleared customs, she led me to an ATM that proceeded to rip me off (it wasn’t her fault). I requested 1,000 Dirhams (something like $120) and it gave me 800—even though the receipt said 1000. She spoke to the man at the bank counter for me. He of course said he was too busy, and I had to come back the following day. He knew full well that was not feasible and was basically telling me to buzz off and eat the loss, which I did.