Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Main suspect in Morocco tourist murders admits in court to killings

Former street seller Abdessamad Ejjoud said he and another accused killed two women in the name of ISIS

A van brings suspects in the December 2018 murders of two Scandinavian tourists to a court in Sale, near the Moroccan capital Rabat, on May 30, 2019. AFP
A van brings suspects in the December 2018 murders of two Scandinavian tourists to a court in Sale, near the Moroccan capital Rabat, on May 30, 2019. AFP

The claimed leader of an extremist cell accused of killing two Scandinavian hikers in Morocco said in court on Thursday that the murders were carried out in the name of ISIS.

Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and Norwegian Maren Ueland, 28, had their throats slit while camping in an isolated area of the High Atlas mountains in December.

"I beheaded one of them. I regret it," former street seller Abdessamad Ejjoud, 25, told the court.

He said another defendant, Younes Ouaziyad, killed the second hiker.

"We loved ISIS and we prayed to God for it," Ejjoud said.

Twenty-four defendants facing charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder appeared in the court in Sale, near Rabat, under heavy security.

Three are suspected of direct involvement in the killings. Ejjoud had been jailed for trying to join ISIS in Syria.

The killers could face the death penalty but Morocco has had an unofficial freeze on executions since 1993.

Louisa Vesterager Jespersen is seen in undated photo obtained from social media. Bovec Sports Center Archive via Reuters
Louisa Vesterager Jespersen is seen in undated photo obtained from social media. Bovec Sports Center Archive via Reuters

The main suspects are all from the Marrakesh region, near the site of the killings.

Jespersen and Ueland shared an apartment and went to Norway's Bo University, where they were studying to be guides.

They had travelled together to Morocco for their Christmas holidays.

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

The charge sheet said their attackers travelled to the High Atlas mountains on December 12 on a mission to kill tourists.

Several possible targets were passed over because the foreigners were accompanied by guides or local residents.

It was four days before the killers selected their targets, the prosecution said. It said two of them murdered the young women while the third filmed them on a phone camera.

Moroccan authorities were initially cautious after the bodies were found, referring to a "criminal act" and wounds to the victims' necks.

But that changed when the video surfaced showing one of the women being beheaded.

In it, one of the killers says the murders are to avenge the killings of extremists in Syria.

Another video published straight after the murders showed the men pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

The only foreigner among the defendants is Kevin Zoller Guervos, 25, a Spanish-Swiss citizen who moved to Morocco after converting to Islam.

The others come from modest backgrounds, scraping by on odd jobs and living in neglected areas of Marrakesh.

Investigators said the cell was inspired by ISIS ideology, but Morocco's anti-terror chief insisted the accused had no contact with the extremist group in conflict zones.

ISIS has never claimed responsibility for the murders.

At a previous hearing, the court accepted a request by the Jespersen family's lawyer for the government to be held "morally responsible" for the killings so they could receive compensation.

The trial opened on May 2 but was adjourned to May 16 and then paused again after a brief hearing.

Another Swiss citizen arrested after the double murder was tried alone and sentenced in mid-April to 10 years in prison for "forming a terrorist group", and for his links to another extremist network.

Updated: May 31, 2019 12:49 AM

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