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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08RABAT1201 2008-12-30 12:26:00 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

AGADIR PROTEST DEATHS: TRAGIC BUT NOT DELIBERATE

Tags:   PHUM PGOV PREL PBTS WI AG MO 
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VZCZCXYZ0019
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #1201/01 3651226
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 301226Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9499
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0877
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L RABAT 001201 

NOFORN
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND DRL/NESCA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/21/2018
TAGS: PHUM PGOV PREL PBTS WI AG MO
SUBJECT: AGADIR PROTEST DEATHS: TRAGIC BUT NOT DELIBERATE

Classified By: DCM Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

-------
Summary
-------



1. (C//NF) Based on information obtained during EmbOff's
visit, it appears that a tragic accident, and not a
premeditated act, led to the deaths of two Sahrawi (Western
Saharan) students during a December 1 protest in the Moroccan
city of Agadir. Separate statements from a Sahrawi
participant in the demonstration, a local prosecutor, and
several human rights attorneys agree on certain key facts
that support the above conclusion. The deaths were widely
reported in Polisario and affiliated media outlets as having
been deliberate killings which were abetted by excessive use
of police force and a subsequent Government of Morocco (GOM)
cover up. End Summary.



--------------------------


Background


--------------------------





2. (SBU) On December 2, a variety of Moroccan, Polisario and
Algerian sources reported that two Sahrawi (Western Saharan)
university students, Baba Khayya and Laktif Elhousin, had
been killed during a demonstration at Al Masira inter-city
bus station in the southern Moroccan city of Agadir the
previous day. All reports indicated that the two were part
of a group of approximately 40 Sahrawi students who had
blocked the station's vehicle entry and exit gates to protest
insufficient buses to transport the waiting students home for
the Eid Al Adha vacation. (Note: As part of a special
subsidy for Sahrawis studying in Moroccan universities, the
GOM provides free bus tickets to allow students to return
home during holidays. End Note.) The same sources also
reported that Belkadi Embarek was in a coma as a result of
injuries sustained in the incident, Elkherchi Mbarek suffered
a broken hand, and Abdessalam Chtouki and Nafai Zaza were
treated for severe bruising.



3. (SBU) Polisario and affiliated or sympathetic
organizations strongly condemned the deaths and accused the
driver of deliberately running down the students. They also
accused the police of using excessive force in breaking up
the demonstration and the GOM of covering up deliberate
murder. Official and independent Moroccan news sources
reported on the incident but claimed that protesters forced
their way onto, and attempted to commandeer, the bus, causing
the driver to veer into the crowd and kill Khaya and
Elhousin. On December 5, Moroccan television aired an
interview with the parents of the deceased students in which
they said there was no political agenda in either the protest
or the GOM's response and asked that their children's deaths
not be "instrumentalized."



--------------------------


Eyewitness's Perspective - The Driver Sped Up


--------------------------





4. (C//NF) Sid Ahmed El Moussaoui (strictly protect), a
Sahrawi third-year law student at Ibn Zohr University in
Agadir, and a participant in the December 1 protest,
confirmed that student dissatisfaction over a lack of bus
service sparked the demonstration. "We weren't really too
serious, though," he said, "We laughed, clapped and sang."
He reconstructed the events for PolOff during a walk-through
at the bus station on the evening of December 17. Pointing
at specific spots in the station lot, Moussaoui explained
that a large SupraTour Company bus stopped at the edge of a
circle of students who had formed up on the interior of the
exit gate and raced its engine. The driver then began easing
into the crowd but suddenly sped up, knocking some people to
the ground and crushing three students against the wall of a
guardhouse. Moussaoui did not know why the driver suddenly
sped up. Given his position and distance from the bus, he
could not see its front doors or driver's side. The vehicle
came to a halt partially in and out of the station perimeter,
blocking the right side gate. The driver escaped on foot.



5. (C//NF) After approximately 10 to 15 minutes, El
Moussaoui said that another driver ran through the crowd,
into the bus and drove it through the gate and away from the
station. During the 10 to 15 minutes before the bus was
removed, El Moussaoui saw several small police cars, each
holding four or five officers, pull up outside the station
wall near the gates. Immediately after the bus drove away, a
large number of police officers in riot helmets entered the
station through the now unblocked gate, and began dispersing
the crowd with batons and arresting "everyone in sight."
Moussaoui ran into the bus station, up two flights of stairs
and onto the street where he hailed a taxi to take him home.
He remembered seeing the police "stack the bodies on top of
each other" before he ran.



--------------------------


Prosecutor's Perspective - Driver Was Grabbed


--------------------------





6. (C//NF) Agadir General Prosecutor Lahbib Bendahan Abu Zir
told PolOff during a December 19 meeting in his Agadir office
that the bus driver had been charged with the equivalent of
involuntary manslaughter and was in custody pending
completion of an investigation. Abu Zir's account of the
December 1 incident agreed with El Moussaoui's on all major
points with the notable exception that Abu Zir said
protesters forced open the bus doors and lunged at the
driver, causing him to swerve and strike the victims. Abu
Zir said he considered it unjust that the driver was in jail,
while none of the protesters were. "The individuals who
broke into the bus are just as responsible for this tragedy,"
he complained. Abu Zir also strongly denied any allegation
of excessive force, saying that police reacted swiftly and
decisively at a critical moment to defuse a tense situation
in which an unknown number of people had been injured. "It
could have easily have gotten worse had they not moved in,"
he explained.



--------------------------


Lawyers' Perspective - No Political Agenda


--------------------------





7. (C//NF) Three prominent, Agadir-based, Moroccan human
rights lawyers not personally involved in the bus station
case confirmed, during a December 18 meeting with PolOff,
that there were two stories circulating about the incident.
One version, which they said had currency in the university,
charged the driver with speeding up out of anger over the
fact that "Sahrawi punks" were blocking his way. The other,
believed by those in "the streets," implicated protesters who
forced their way onto the bus "in the way that overexcited
youths do" and inadvertently frightened the driver into
causing an accident. The three lawyers, Noureddine El Alami,
Ali Bakkar and Lahoucine Boufim (strictly protect all), said
"whatever the truth," they did not believe it was a
deliberate act, nor was there a GOM coverup. "If there was
any evidence of a human rights violation or political agenda,
we would have taken the case free of charge," Boufim
commented.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





8. (C//NF) There appears to be no disagreement on the basic
facts of the December 1 incident. The main dispute centers
on responsibility for the bus driver's sudden increase in
speed. Based on PolOff's examination of the site, there is
little room for clearance between the guardhouse wall and the
sides of passing buses, and no avenue of escape. Given the
circumstances, location and chain of events, both theories as
to the cause of the accident are credible. Eyewitness El
Moussaoui could not explain why the driver suddenly sped up,
but from his vantage point, he also could not see if any of
his fellow students forced their way into the bus. If it
becomes apparent that the driver did decide on his own to
push his way through, the fact that he is in jail and being
investigated points to an appropriate judicial response at
this stage of the process. Regardless of the final outcome,
Mission does not believe there was premeditation or a
cover-up on the part of anyone involved in this tragic event.
End Comment.


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Riley