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Three sentenced to death in Islamic State-inspired murder of two Scandinavian women in Morocco

Three men accused of the murder of two Scandinavian hikers in the Atlas Mountains last year have been sentenced to death, an anti-terrorism court in Morocco decided Thursday.

Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, were killed in their tent in December near the Moroccan village of Imlil, a popular hiking destination. The incident was labeled by Moroccan authorities as a terror attack after some of the men involved pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

The men were tried under an anti-terrorism law and were the main defendants in a case that put two dozen suspects on trial over the women’s deaths last year.

After a seven-month trial, Abdessamad Al Joud, Younes Ouziad and Rachid Afatti were sentenced to death, while a fourth man, Abderahman Khayali, was handed a life sentence, according to Moroccan state television.


Men, accused in the killing of a Danish and Norwegian hikers in the Atlas mountains near Marrakech last December, are seen inside a car after leaving the courtroom in Sale, near Rabat, Morocco, July 18, 2019.

REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

Two of them — Ejjoud and Ouziyad — had told the court they had decapitated the women, while the third — Afatti — said he filmed the killing and posted the footage online.

Twenty other people who prosecutors said had links to the killers were sentenced to between five and 30 years for forming a criminal gang to commit terrorist acts, encouraging terrorism, undermining public order and other crimes.

All were Moroccan apart from one Swiss national, Kevin Ziller Guervos, who was also accused of persuading people to join militant groups and got a 20-year sentence.

Both victims had been studying in Norway to become tour guides. Their bodies were found at a site that often is the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak.

In the video, some of the men pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and the women’s attackers had also posted grisly videos on social media of their murder.

In a gruesome clip, posted on social media shortly after the attack, one of the victims could be heard screaming while a man cut her neck with a knife.

Hours before the ruling, in a room packed with national and international news outlets and the victims’ families, some of the killers asked mercy from God but none expressed remorse, according to local news reports. Others vowed they were innocent of the charges against them.

The court ordered the four main convicts to pay 2 million dirham ($209,000 US) compensation to Ueland’s family. Lawyers for Jespersen’s family had asked for the state, not the murders to pay, saying the men would not be able to afford it. But the court turned down that request and made no other order for payments.

Their lawyer, Hafida El Maksaoui, said she would appeal against the sentences.

Last week, Helle Petersen, the mother of Jespersen, urged the court to give the accused the death sentence for their role in her daughter’s death, according to Agence France-Presse.

After the sentencing, she told Danish TV 2: “The death sentence means they won’t be able to go out and do the same to others.” She added: “We have to show we will not accept it.”

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