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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

Moroccans rally against extremism after Scandinavian tourist murders

Their killers pledged allegiance to ISIS in an execution video authorities believe is likely authentic

A man prays as Moroccans pay tribute to murdered Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Norwegian Maren Ueland in Rabat, in front the Norwegian embassy on December 22, 2018. AFP
A man prays as Moroccans pay tribute to murdered Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Norwegian Maren Ueland in Rabat, in front the Norwegian embassy on December 22, 2018. AFP

Hundreds of Moroccans rallied at the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Rabat on Saturday in remembrance of two Scandinavian tourists killed in a terrorist attack in the Atlas Mountains, murders that shocked the country as much as the women’s home nations.

The candlelight vigil was held to honour Norwegian Maren Ueland, 28, and Dane Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, whose bodies were found on Monday after an attack by four apparent ISIS sympathisers.

The men pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video filmed before they decapitated the women’s bodies. Morocco has been the site of several disrupted ISIS plots but the militant group does not have an affiliate in the country or a presence there. Moroccan authorities have discovered around 20 terrorism-linked cells in the country since the beginning of 2017.

The killings shocked Moroccans as much as 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 killing.

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. They then quietly departed to the Danish Embassy. A torch-lit parade was held in Ueland's hometown in Norway on Friday.

The men said in a video recorded a week before the murder that their actions were retaliation for the US-led coalition operations in eastern Syria against ISIS.

They then recorded a video of their attack, which Norwegian authorities said appeared to be authentic.

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The women had pitched a tent near a town that is the starting point for the hike up North Africa’s highest summit, Mount Toubkal.

Moroccan authorities said they arrested 13 people for their “alleged links with the perpetrators of the terrorist act”.

Police seized “electronic equipment, a shotgun, knives, a military uniform and materials that could be used to manufacture explosives” in the raids.

The four main suspects were all arrested in Marrakesh, the country’s fourth-largest city.

Moroccan and Danish authorities have concluded that the murder was an act of terrorism.

According to a Soufan Group report released in late 2017, around 1,660 Moroccan nationals had travelled to Iraq or Syria to fight for ISIS since 2014. About 236 of those had returned by the end of 2017, with 929 remaining in Iraqi or Syrian territory. It is unclear whether the perpetrators had travelled to a conflict zone and returned to Morocco.

Tourism accounts for around 10 per cent of Morocco’s income and the attack will spark fears that the country will face serious damage to its reputation. The last major terrorist attack in Morocco took place in 2011 when a bomb exploded in a Marrakesh square, killing 17 people, most of them European tourists. Al Qaeda’s Maghreb affiliate claimed responsibility for the attack.

Updated: December 23, 2018 04:02 PM

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