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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 January 2019

Moroccans hold anti-terror vigil for slain Nordic hikers

The women were murdered by four men affiliated with ISIS

Moroccans pay tribute to murdered Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Norwegian Maren Ueland in Rabat, in front the Norwegian embassy. AFP
Moroccans pay tribute to murdered Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Norwegian Maren Ueland in Rabat, in front the Norwegian embassy. AFP

Moroccans gathered on Saturday in front of the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Rabat in a candlelight vigil to honour two Scandinavian university students killed in a terrorist attack in the Atlas Mountains.

Hundreds of people brought flowers and shed tears on Saturday in a show of opposition to violence and religious extremism. They were honouring Norwegian Maren Ueland, 28, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, whose bodies were found Monday. Authorities said the hikers were killed by four men affiliated with ISIS.

The killings shocked Moroccans as much people in Denmark and Norway. "I am deeply touched by the kind reactions of the Moroccan people after the tragic event," the Norwegian ambassador to Morocco, Merethe Nergaard, said on Saturday.

The mourners included ordinary Moroccans, politicians, artists and activists. Some held banners saying "Sorry" and condemned the brutal killing, which is unusual in Morocco and revived fears of terrorism.

"Words cannot describe this barbaric crime," said Khalil Bensalmi, in his 50s, who came to the vigil with his two daughters. "This doesn't at all represent Moroccan society or its pacifist culture."

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The group first held a vigil in front of the Norwegian Embassy, read a letter in memory of the two women, then held a moment of silence. Many attendees cried. They then quietly departed to the Danish Embassy, where again tears were shed and candles were lit in honour of the two women, university students passionate about the outdoors.

Ratiba Naji, a homemaker, tried to hold back her emotions as she said: "It's horrendous. These girls deserve life. Their parents must be devastated. I am sorry."

A torch-lit parade was held in Ueland's home town in Norway on Friday.

The killings marked the first terrorist attack to hit Morocco since 2011, when a suicide bombing in Marrakech killed 16 people.

More than 1,000 Moroccans have joined ISIS in recent years, and Moroccan authorities arrested 20 cells with terrorist affiliations between 2017 and 2018.

The hikers' killings triggered fear among Moroccans of a renewed terrorist threat.

Samira Laziri, a journalist for national radio, who came to the vigil to protest against terrorism, said: "We thought that we were safe, but sadly there are still terrorist cells in the country and unfortunately we still have a lot of youth who get influenced" by extremist forces.

Thirteen men have been detained in the investigation.

Updated: December 23, 2018 09:35 AM

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