NEW YORK (Sep. 14)
Security is being beefed up at Jewish institutions in Morocco after two Jews were murdered in the kingdom in separate incidents.
Eli Affriat, 75, was stabbed to death in Meknes on Saturday. Two days earlier, Albert Rebibo, 55, was shot in Casablanca.
While police have not ruled out criminal motives in the killings, terrorism is seen as the most likely motive, especially in light of the multiple bombings in Casablanca on May 16, which targeted Jewish sites. Those attacks killed more than 40 people.
The murders came less than two weeks after Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom visited Morocco amid reports that the two countries are considering re-establishing closer diplomatic ties.
Morocco played a behind-the scenes role in contacts between Israel and the Palestinians during the 1990s, but reduced those contacts during the past three years of the Palestinian intifada.
The Rebibo shooting also came on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington — during the shooting his killers reportedly shouted “God is great” in Arabic.
Rebibo was a lumber merchant who was closing down the shutters of his store for lunch when two individuals arrived on motorcycles and shot him, sources in the community told U.S.-based Jewish groups.
Moroccan police set up roadblocks and dispatched helicopters in an attempt to find the killers, but they were unsuccessful.
After the shooting, Moroccan King Mohammed VI phoned Jewish community leaders, pledging to protect the community and take steps to find the killers.
The community numbers about 5,000 today, down from about 250,000 in 1948. Most of Morocco’s Jews are older than 50. Communities in Fez, Rabat and Marrakech, all of which once boasted thousands of Jews living intimately in walled medieval markets, now have only a few hundred members.
Despite this, the king and Moroccan Jewish leaders are proud of the country’s Jewish heritage — and after the May attacks, the king pledged to rebuild the damaged buildings.
The second deadly attack occurred after the king had already spoken to community leaders.
Affriat was walking to the synagogue from his home when he was attacked and stabbed.
Since Affriat was a fortune teller and a money lender, police are investigating the possibility that his murder was criminally, not politically, motivated.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helps support the Moroccan Jewish community, is “working with the community to take whatever steps are necessary” to maintain Moroccan Jewish life, said JDC’s executive vice president, Steven Schwager.