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Trial for murder of Scandinavian hikers to open in Morocco with two dozen suspects

Three main defendants who allegedly pledged allegiance to IS are accused of direct involvement.

Flowers and posters placed in a gathering in support of the families of two murdered foreign tourists in Imlil, Morocco
Flowers and posters placed in a gathering in support of the families of two murdered foreign tourists in Imlil, Morocco
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

TWO DOZEN SUSPECTS are set to go on trial in Morocco on Thursday for offences linked to the gruesome murder of two young Scandinavian hikers in December.

Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen (24) and Norwegian Maren Ueland (28) had their throats slit before they were beheaded in December at an isolated site in the High Atlas mountains.

The two hikers had travelled together to Morocco for their Christmas holidays.

They were killed on the foothills of Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa, some 80 kilometres from the city of Marrakesh.

Three main defendants who allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group are accused of direct involvement in the murders.

A total of 24 defendants are due to appear before a criminal court in Sale to answer charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder.

A Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam is among the suspects who are due before the court.

Families of the hikers and their lawyers will not attend the trial, according to information obtained by AFP.

‘Enemies of Allah’

After the bodies were discovered, the Moroccan authorities were initially cautious, referring to a “criminal act”.

However, that changed when a video showing one of the victims being beheaded – filmed by one of the killers on a mobile phone – circulated on social networks.

One of the killers refers to “enemies of Allah” and revenge for brothers in Syria.

Danish police said last month they had launched prosecutions against 14 people suspected of sharing the gruesome video.

A separate video in the initial aftermath of the murder showed the alleged killers pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Police quickly arrested a first suspect in Marrakesh. Three others were arrested a few days later when they tried to leave the city by bus.

Aged from 25 to 33, all had made a living from “small jobs” and were educated to a “very low” level, according to investigators.

They had recently embraced Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, according to friends, neighbours and some family members.

The “terrorist cell” was inspired by IS ideology, according to investigators.

Morocco’s anti-terror chief has said the accused had no contact with the jihadist group in conflict zones.

IS has never claimed responsibility for the double-murder.

Other suspects

Abdessamad Ejjoud (25) is the suspected ringleader of the operational cell and a wider group he formed in Marrakesh.

20 others are due to face justice in Sale for links to the alleged killers.

Among them is Kevin Zoller Guervos, a Spanish-Swiss citizen living in Morocco, who authorities allege subscribes to “extremist ideology”.

He stands accused of teaching the main suspects how to use encrypted communications and how to fire a gun.

He denied all charges when brought in front of an anti-terror judge.

Another Swiss citizen arrested after the double-murder was tried separately.

They were sentenced in mid-April to 10 years in prison for “forming a terrorist group” and for his links to another extremist network.

- © AFP 2019

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