Moroccan suspects pledged allegiance to Islamic State before ‘slaughter’ of two Scandinavian women
The four suspects in the murder of two Scandinavian women in the Atlas Mountains have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS), authorities said.
- A video authenticated by Morocco’s general prosecutor shows the four suspects threatening to kill in the name of IS
- Victims were found with cuts to their necks
- Women were hiking the mountain path as part of a month-long holiday
The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, were found on Monday in an isolated area near Imlil, on the way to Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak and a popular hiking destination.
On Tuesday, police arrested one suspect in the tourist hub of Marrakech, with the accused telling authorities they belonged to a militant group.
Police later arrested three others trying to leave the city on a bus.
They were identified as Abdessamad Ejjoud, Younes Ouziad and Rashid Aftati, aged between 25 and 32.
The trio had knives and slingshots on them when they were apprehended.
Video of the four pledging allegiance to IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has since surfaced on social media, showing the group threatening to carry out attacks.
Morocco’s general prosecutor confirmed the authenticity of the video, which was made a week before the killings, on Thursday.
The clip was filmed in a different location to where the women’s bodies were found, authorities said.
Media outlets referred to the murders as “slayings” and “slaughters” due to the violent nature of the women’s deaths.
Other tourists hiking in the area found the women with knife wounds to their necks.
“This is a case of an unusually bestial killing of two totally innocent young women,” a Danish intelligence service spokesperson said in a statement.
The women’s tent and the surrounding area was cordoned off for forensic officers to collect evidence from the crime scene.
Hiking was temporarily suspended while investigators accessed the area.
Students loved the outdoors
The victims were students at the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN), both undertaking a bachelor’s degrees in outdoor life, culture and ecophilosophy.
Ms Ueland’s mother said her daughter had taken safety precautions for the trip. (Facebook: Maren Ueland)
They embarked on the climb together, intending it to be a month-long trek.
Ms Ueland’s mother, Irene Ueland, told Norwegian news service NRK her daughter had taken safety precautions before making the trip.
“Her priority was safety,” she said.
“The girls had taken all precautionary measures before embarking on this trip.”
Halle Jespersen told Danish broadcaster N2 she last spoke to her daughter on December, which was her 24th birthday.
She had just finished her exams and was looking forward to the adventure, despite her family’s misgivings about the trip.
Ms Jespersen said her daughter loved the outdoors and mountain climbing and told the broadcaster that receiving word of her daughter’s death was “one of the most terrible things you can experience”.
Both women’s Facebook profiles have been converted to tribute pages, with friends, family and those who did not know them taking to social media to vent their grief over the attack.
“As a Moroccan, I’m deeply shocked about the incident and truly sorry for what happened in Morocco, hope the suspect gets what they deserve, we do not tolerate such actions like this in our country,” one person commented on a Facebook tribute to Ms Vesterager Jespersen.
Ms Vesterager Jespersen was studying a degree that incorporated her love of the outdoors. (Facebook: Louisa Vesterager Jespersen)
Morocco’s ‘safe’ reputation
Compared to other countries in North Africa, Morocco has been largely insulated from militant attacks.
The most recent took place in April 2011, when 17 people were killed in restaurant bombing in Marrakech.
Morocco is a key ally of the United States and Europe in the fight against terrorism.
Government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said Morocco condemned the “terrorist, criminal act”.
“It is an unacceptable act that does not fit with the values and traditions of Moroccan people nor the traditions of the area where the crime happened,” Mr Khalfi said.
An anti-terrorism rally is being planned for Saturday in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city.
The nation has struggled for years with sporadic Islamic extremism, with more than 1,000 Moroccans believed to have joined IS.
The Bureau for Judicial Investigations, established in 2015, says it has so far broken up 57 militant cells, including eight in 2018.