Suspect arrested over killing of Scandinavian hikers in Morocco ‘has ties to terrorist group’
The lone suspect arrested over the killing of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains is connected to a terrorist group, and three other suspects are on the run, Moroccan authorities say.
- The pair were found with stab wounds to their necks
- Local media linked the group of suspects to terrorist organisation Islamic State
- Three suspects remain at large but have been identified by authorities
State television 2M reported on its website that authorities considered the two women’s slayings a terrorist act.
Local media reported the suspects had links to the Islamic State (IS) group.
The women, who were from Denmark and Norway, were discovered stabbed in the neck on Monday by other tourists, who alerted police, according to national media.
Hiking in the area was temporarily suspended.
The killings have shocked Morocco, a popular tourist destination where such attacks on foreigners are extremely rare.
The Rabat public prosecutor’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that the only captured suspect had affiliations to a terrorist group, without naming the group.
The suspect was arrested in Marrakech on Tuesday.
Three other suspects have been identified and but are still on the run, a security official said.
Danish police assisting investigation
The remote mountainous region where the women were found dead is 10 kilometres from the village of Imlil — often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak.
Photos and videos broadcast by 2M on Wednesday showed forensic investigators working around the women’s brightly coloured tent on a rocky hillside.
The broadcaster said the tent held food and belongings for three people, including an ID card.
Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators had video surveillance footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims’ tent and leaving the area after the slaying.
Authorities in Denmark and Norway warned their citizens from hiking without local guides in Morocco. Danish police officials said they sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.
Ms Ueland’s mother said her daughter took precautions before embarking on the trek. (Facebook: Maren Ueland)
Media in Norway identified the Norwegian hiker as Maren Ueland, 28.
Her mother, Irene Ueland, told NRK her daughter had taken safety precautions before making the trip.
The Danish victim was identified by media in Denmark as Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24.
Her mother, Helle Jespersen, told BT two police officers rang the doorbell on Monday evening with the message that her daughter had been killed.
She said the family had warned her against undertaking the journey.
Ms Jespersen was studying the same course as Ms Ueland. (Facebook: Louisa Vesterager Jespersen)
The University of South-Eastern Norway said on its website that both women were studying to earn bachelor’s degrees in outdoor life, culture and ecophilosophy.
They attended a campus in Boe, southern Norway and west of Oslo.
“What we know is that they were on a month-long, private holiday in Morocco. Our thoughts go to the families,” the university said on its home page, adding that flags were flown at half-mast in their memory.
Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists and is a key ally of the United States and Europe in the fight against terrorism.
The nation has struggled for years with sporadic Islamic extremism, and more than 1,000 Moroccans are believed to have joined the Islamic State group.