Residents of Melouiya, a village high in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, are in shock at the news two of their sons were implicated in terror attacks in Spain.
A traditional tent set up on a rocky patch of ground near the rough stone house of the Oukabir family, originally intended for a wedding reception, has been turned into a funeral tent.
“Joy has given way to sadness and pain,” said Abderrahim, in his forties, an uncle of the Oukabir brothers.
Driss Oukabir, 27, was arrested in the Spanish town of Ripoll on Thursday just hours after a van sped into crowds on the busy Las Ramblas avenue in central Barcelona, leaving 13 people dead.
His brother Moussa, 17, was one of five “suspected terrorists” shot dead after knocking down pedestrians in the Catalan seaside resort of Cambrils in a second attack in the early hours of Friday.
“We are in shock, completely distraught”, said the father of the two young men, Said, with tears in his eyes.
With an athletic build and a baseball cap on his head, he was surrounded by family members, neighbours and friends who had come to offer their condolences.
“Spanish police called Moussa’s mother who is in Spain to tell her that he was dead,” he told AFP shortly before the official announcement by police on Friday night.
The twin terror attacks left 14 people dead and some 120 wounded.
“We are simple, peaceful people. We don’t know anything about radicalism or terrorism,” another resident told AFP.
– ‘Nice boy’ –
The economy of the impoverished, mostly Berber-speaking region is based mainly on farming, herding and money sent home by family members working in Europe.
Said Oukabir left to try his luck on the other side of the Mediterranean in the 1990s.
With his son Driss, who was 10 at the time, he headed for the province of Girona in Catalonia.
Moussa, who would have celebrated his 18th birthday in October, was born in Ripoll, a Spanish town of around 10,000 people about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Barcelona.
The family have since lived between Spain, Melouiya and another Moroccan town, Aghbala.
The news that the two brothers were implicated in the Spain attacks shocked relatives, who said they had no idea the pair had been radicalised.
“The whole region is in shock,” Moussa’s uncle said. “He was gentle, always smiling, he didn’t smoke or drink.”
Said said his sons had shown no sign of radicalisation.
“They lived like the young people of their age, dressed like them,” said their father, who was called in by Moroccan police early on Saturday.
“Moussa was a nice boy who didn’t hurt anyone.
“He was attending classes and was going to take his high school exams next year. He recently started praying… but it stopped there.”
He said the young man, who has three sisters, had “doubtless” been manipulated.
A cousin said Moussa “loved playing football, having a good time, chatting up girls”.
He travelled to Morocco almost every year for the summer holidays and was expected back last Tuesday, the cousin said.
“The last few months, he started to become interested in religion. He used to go to a mosque in Ripoll. Maybe that’s where he was brainwashed,” he said, adding that the brothers’ parents had recently divorced.
Their father said that Driss, the older brother, had “left school early to work honestly and earn a living”.
“Today he is between the hands of God and the police. He is under investigation. I hope they will say he’s innocent. I don’t want to lose both my sons.”