″We Can Only Pray It Wasn′t Them″ | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.03.2004
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"We Can Only Pray It Wasn't Them"

Madrid's cosmopolitan Lavapies neighborhood has long been a melting pot for Arabs and other immigrants. It was also home to the main suspect in Thursday's terrorist attacks -- the deadliest in years.


Madrid's Nuevo Siglo telephone shop has become ground zero for the city's terrorist investigation.

Lavapies is a multicultural neighborhood located in the heart of Madrid. The people here still haven't escaped the shock of last Thursday's terrorist attacks on the city. For days now, police have been combing entire blocks of homes, questioning one neighbor after the other in the search for clues behind last week's train bombings. News cameras from al over the world have been snapping and shooting the small, non-descript telephone store here non-stop. Police arrested the Moroccan-born Jamal Zougam at the "Nuevo Siglo" (New Century) shop just after the attacks.

The investigation has brought unwanted attention to the immigrant neighborhood, and many are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.

Just across the street from the telephone shop where Zougam was arrested, there's an Arab greengrocer run by a Moroccan. The owner, who asked not to be identified by name, said he still couldn't believe that his neighbor and fellow countryman had been a part of the terrible attacks, which left 200 dead and 1,500 injured in bombings of commuter trains at several of the city's congested stations.

Trusted by neighbors

"Jamal and his co-workers were totally normal and very sympathetic people," the store owner explained. "To me, they rise above all doubt. And even now nothing has been confirmed. We can only pray that it wasn't them. I hope it will all be cleared up and, in the end, they will not have had anything to do with it."

Even Spaniards in the neighborhood had something good to say about Zougam's telephone shop, which was widely-respected and frequented by local residents. The bar owner two doors down first learned of Zougam's arrest on television.

"I was petrified when I heard it," the bar owner said. "I wasn't a friend of his, but we always said 'hello' and 'goodbye' to each other. But I always had him repair my mobile phones. I revered the people in the store and thought they did good work. But if it's true that they're responsible for the attack, I will wring their necks."

The neighborhood has long been a magnet for people from other countries. Immigrants have been coming here and coexisting peacefully for years. But some Spaniards, especially older generations, express concerns about the growing influx of foreigners to the neighborhood. Some even feel threatened and express a kind of populist thinking not uncommon in other parts of Europe where immigration is an issue of heated debate.

"It used to be a wonderful neighborhood," one Spanish neighbor said. "But today people are afraid to go out on the streets of Lavapies. There's a lot of theft -- and that's not all. I don't want to say all Arab's are killers -- for heaven's sake, no. But it is true that these people are causing a lot of damage here."

Growing distrust

There's a Muslim butcher located adjacent to the telephone shop. Its owner, a 40-year Algerian who has lived in Spain for 12 years, was also angered by the terrorist attack. He said he felt less welcome in other parts of Madrid in the wake of the attacks.

"In other districts of Madrid people have looked at me distrustfully as soon as they heard me speaking in Arabic," he said. "When they stare, I can sometimes feel the anger and the desire for revenge. I can only hope that these people know they can't lump all of us together," he said, referring to the possible Islamic extremists behind the attacks.

Another Arab then jumped into the butcher's conversation. The Moroccan has lived in Spain for a number of years, has a family and feels at home here. He hopes the suspicions toward radical Islamic terrorists doesn't transform into a blanket rejection of people of Muslim faith.

"We have lived here in Spain for so long that we're more or less a part of this country," he said. "Those who did this are terrorists. That has nothing to do with religion or geographical origin."

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