SIDI MOUMEN, Morocco -- Every morning just before 7, Abdelhaq Ainane pulls on his jeans, a loose shirt and a navy blue cap and steps out the door of his tin-roofed shack.
He follows a winding alley lined with hanging laundry, passes women lugging jugs of water from a communal tap, and trudges through a wasteland of dirt where cows, donkeys, dogs and goats feast on scattered piles of rotting trash.
The stink is overpowering, but Ainane, 27, is used to it. Besides, he has something else on his mind. He's focused on his search for work as he makes his daily seven-mile trek down a dirt road to a cluster of factories where workers weave cotton into cloth, machinists weld metal and grease-covered repairmen fix automobiles.
Ainane knows in his heart that he will return empty-handed to the two-bedroom shack in Carrière Thomas -- the name given to his part of the Sidi Moumen shantytown -- that he shares with his five siblings, mother, uncle, aunt and cousin.
At the first factory, the doorman will shake his head and send him away. Then he will walk to the next factory, and the next, and the next, only to face the same humiliation.
It's the same every day.
Ainane's desperate search is mirrored all over Morocco in the slums and shantytowns where millions of undereducated and unemployed young men live on the fringes of big cities. A third of Morocco's 33 million people are under 15, and half of those over 15 are illiterate.
With little hope of finding jobs, poor young Moroccans have three choices: turn to drugs to forget their misery, climb into rickety boats to make a dangerous, clandestine journey to Europe in search of work, or embrace Islamic extremism and its promise of a better life in heaven.
The Sidi Moumen shantytown lies a stone's throw from the opulent villas outside Casablanca, Morocco's legendary commercial capital.
Three years ago last month, 13 men detonated explosive-laden backpacks at five targets in the city, killing themselves and 32 bystanders.
Eleven of those suicide bombers called Carrière Thomas home.
The bombings on the night of May 16, 2003, targeted a Jewish community center and cemetery, a hotel, a restaurant and a Spanish social club. It seemed to be a broad but ill-defined assault on Morocco's small Jewish community, on foreigners in general and on the tourism industry, a major source of revenue for the North African state.
Officials blamed a group they called Salafiya Jihadia, the name used by the government to refer to extremist Islamic groups with links to al-Qaeda, but no assertion of responsibility was ever made.
Moroccan security forces have been a heavy-handed presence among Sidi Moumen's 50,000 people ever since, but there's no certainty that a government crackdown and 3,000 arrests nationwide have immunized the slums against Islamic-inspired violence.
Elarbi Zahidi, a former resident of Sidi Moumen who works with young people there, said half of them adhere to Salafism, the puritanical ideology of the suicide bombers.
"The extremists are still there but are silent," said Boucheib Mhamka, a Sidi Moumen resident and social worker. "However, the slightest thing can provoke them."
The radicals hide among the 4 million impoverished Moroccans who live behind high walls in houses built of concrete, sheet metal and scraps -- called bidonvilles -- in the coastal belt that includes Casablanca and the capital, Rabat, as well as on the Mediterranean coast in Tangier and at Oujda, near the border with Algeria.
From a passing train, hunks of metal and bricks can be seen holding down the shantytowns' corrugated metal roofs. Most of the shacks have satellite dishes, bringing residents images of unattainable wealth, as well as the suffering of Palestinians and Iraqis. Anger mounts and is easily exploited by radical recruiters.
Unemployment in the shantytowns is said to be about 25 percent, far above the national average. Most of those who do work are shoe shiners, seamstresses or street vendors. Many take drugs; some youths sniff paint.
"The young are gobbling drugs to forget their miseries," said Ahmed Gaba, a 22-year-old ninth-grade dropout.
A dejected Ainane, back from his job search by 11 a.m., hung out for a while with his friends in the shantytown's alleys. Then they all gathered at the home of a friend, 25-year-old Khaled Takatre.
Inside, the three-bedroom house that Takatre shares with his parents and 34-year-old unemployed brother is immaculate, like most homes in Morocco's shantytowns, despite the lack of water and plumbing. It offers a striking contrast to the dirt and mess outside. A yellow rug covers the tiled floor of the small living room where a thin light filters through a tiny mesh window close to the ceiling. Long Moroccan sofas double as beds. An Egyptian soap opera was playing on the television.
All six friends are unemployed, and none has more than an elementary school education except for Ainane, who has a technical diploma. The others no longer bother to look for a job because they say they will never find one.
"My dream is not big, it's very small," Ainane said.
As the young men discussed their lives, agents from the local government appeared at the door, asking for a reporter's credentials. The relaxed atmosphere grew tense.
"Now we're afraid to talk," Ainane said.
Ever since the Casablanca blasts, police have been keeping a close watch on young people, especially when they gather in groups.
Outside Takatre's home, children play beside a small, run-down green-and-white mosque with square minarets. It was there, it is said, that some of the bombers prayed.
The mosque has been shut since the attacks, but white-painted graffiti on a small, rusty metal door reads: "It will open tomorrow," which in Arabic could also mean "soon."
The conversation in Takatre's living room turned to the Casablanca blasts, referred to in Morocco as the May 16 events. Some of the young men rejected the tactic outright; others said they understood what drove the bombers to such measures.
Ainane didn't want to talk about it. "It makes me uncomfortable," he said.
"What they did angered God -- killing innocent people," Takatre said. "They were poor, and those guys took advantage of them and played with their minds."
"Maybe poverty drove them to it," said Hamid Nasser, 27.
At 1 p.m., a few of the men headed to a mosque for Friday prayers. Ainane said he never prays.
In the Sidi Taibi shantytown, about 200 miles to the north on the Atlantic coast, few miss Friday prayers.
Moroccan media have dubbed one of its quarters "Kandahar," a reference to the Afghan city that was once the stronghold of the Taliban. And the media mockingly refer to the mosque there as the "Beard Mosque," apparently because it was used as a meeting place for radical Muslims before the Casablanca bombings.
According to police, 30 Sidi Taibi men have been detained since the 2003 attacks. Among them is Abdelkebir Goumarra, who is serving a life sentence and who police say was one of the ringleaders -- a charge he and his family deny.
Residents say police regularly make forays into the shantytown and pick up men that fit the radical Islamic stereotype.
"People are always going in and out of jail here," said Hicham Bouchri, 29, who said he recognizes many of them when their pictures appear on television. "They all have beards," he said.
Goumarra's brother, Brahim, said he shaved his beard and switched to Western clothes after Goumarra was arrested. But many of the men here have kept their beards and wear clothes similar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan: a white cap and a floating robe that falls short of the ankles.
Sidi Taibi, with a population of 8,000, is not a typical shantytown. Most of its houses are two stories and made of brick. But like the others, it has no electricity, plumbing or running water.
Abu Is'haq, wearing a black-and-white checkered robe and a U.S. Marine hat, said the hardship didn't bother him. "It doesn't matter where I live because real wealth is in heaven. God said so," he said. The Casablanca bombers damage Islam's image, he added.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI has pledged to eradicate the country's shantytowns by 2010. But new housing and promised government improvements have been slow in coming -- and are not entirely welcome.
Shantytown residents say the new housing -- one- or two-bedroom apartments in high-rise buildings -- is too small even for their nuclear families, which typically consist of 10 members.
Taher Chaibat, a social worker, said moving shantytown dwellers from shacks to towers wouldn't solve the underlying problems. "We're only transferring them from tin homes to concrete buildings," Chaibat said. For the young men, the future remains bleak.
"I find Morocco too small -- too tight," said Gaba, the 22-year-old unemployed man who lives in a two-bedroom home in Sidi Moumen with his parents and six siblings. "The only dream I have is to go to Europe to find work and then return with money to lift my family from this mess."
Meanwhile, Ainane continues making his seven-mile trek every morning in a futile search for work.
"As long as we are alive and there's God above," he said, "there's hope."