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Spanish And Arabic Mixes In Accused Terrorist's Home Town


French authorities filed terrorism charges last week against the gunman who opened fire on a high-speed train before being overpowered by three Americans. The suspect is Moroccan but has Spanish residency. Lauren Frayer travelled to the port city where he lived for years, and she brings us this story.


LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The mayor of Algeciras convened an emergency town hall meeting about terrorism. One of this city's former residents, Ayoub El-Khazzani, is the man charged in the train attack in France. His parents still live here.

LANDALUCE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Solidarity, hospitality, tolerance and diversity those are our riches," Mayor Jose Ignacio Landaluce told the crowd. You hear Arabic as much as Spanish on the streets of this working-class city. It's been a model of integration for immigrants, especially Moroccans. The city council chamber was packed with people who want to believe that hasn't been illusion. As the meeting lets out, they stream through narrow streets and down into the barrio, where the El-Khazzani's live. I asked one local, Jose Arana, why.

JOSE ARANA: To demonstrate here - to be here demonstrating that - I don't know what he's done, you know, why he has done it, but it's got nothing to do with the way we are in Algeciras.

FRAYER: The way they are in Algeciras is relatively poor for Western Europe. Unemployment is 40 percent. But Arana says that's something that affects everyone here.

ARANA: You can be Muslim or you could be any other person here, we have problems, you know. We don't have jobs. I, myself, don't have a job. I've been unemployed for two years now.

FRAYER: Spain has fewer immigrants than many other European countries and the economic crisis here has not sparked a major anti-immigrant movement. Most Muslim, Arab or African residents live in mixed neighborhoods with native Spaniards, case in point - Lola Torredor and Amina Kazda, neighbors and friends, one Catholic and one Muslim, walking arm in arm.

LOLA TORREDOR: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Look how close we live to Morocco," Torredor says, gesturing toward the North African coast visible just across the Mediterranean Sea from here. "Of course we have to live together. It's not like we have a choice anyway," she says, laughing. Her friend chimes in.

AMINA KAZDA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "I'm a Muslim. My religion doesn't preach murder. It preaches respect," she says. "I've lived here 22 years and I never felt I had to explain that to anyone until now," she says.

The crowd applauds in solidarity. All this was taking place just steps from where Ayoub El-Khazzani's parents were hiding out in their home. A family friend, Mohamed Ali Mustafa Ammar, says the parents feel like they let down their city.


FRAYER: "Amid all the emotions they're feeling, there's a lot shame," he said. "Look at this multicultural city. They chose it as their home. No mother or father should have to go through this and neither should any city," he said. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Algeciras, Spain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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