Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

Morocco court sentences three to death for killing Scandinavian hikers

Morocco has had a de facto freeze on executions since 199

Rachid Afatti, Ouziad Younes, and Ejjoud Abdessamad, were sentenced to death on 18 July 2019 for the murder of two Scandinavian hikers in Morocco's High Atlas Mountains. AFP 
Rachid Afatti, Ouziad Younes, and Ejjoud Abdessamad, were sentenced to death on 18 July 2019 for the murder of two Scandinavian hikers in Morocco's High Atlas Mountains. AFP 

A Moroccan court sentenced three men to death on Thursday for the brutal murder of two Scandinavian women while on a hiking trip in kingdom.

Suspected ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud and two companions received the maximum penalty after being found guilty of the grisly knife slayings in the High Atlas Mountains in December of Danish tourist Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland, whose family declined to take part in the trial.

Ahead of the verdict, which came after an 11-week trial in Sale, near the capital Rabat, the three main defendants asked for forgiveness from Allah. All 23 defendants addressed the court on Thursday, most seeking leniency for their part in the slayings.

The case that has shocked the North African country and journalists gathered outside the anti-terrorist court ahead of verdicts.

An autopsy report found 23 injuries on Jespersen's decapitated body and seven on that of Ueland.

The killings were recorded and the video posted online, with the men claiming allegiance to ISIS.

The death sentence was welcomed by prosecutors and the family of one of the murdered women. A petition circulating online has also called for their execution.

In his closing arguments in June, the prosecutor described the three defendants as “human beasts” and asked for death sentences.

"We expect sentences that match the cruelty of the crime," lawyer Khaled El Fataoui, speaking for the family of Jespersen, told AFP.

Helle Petersen, her mother, in a letter read out in court last week, said: "The most just thing would be to give these beasts the death penalty they deserve."

Morocco has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2.

The prosecution called for 20 years in jail for Kevin Zoller Guervos, a Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam.

The only non-Moroccan in the group, Guervos is accused of having taught the main suspects how to use an encrypted messaging service and to use weapons.

His lawyer, Saad Sahli, said Guervos had cut all ties with the other suspects "once he knew they had extremist ideas" more than 18 months ago.

All but three of those on trial had said they were supporters of ISIS, according to the prosecution, although ISIS itself has never claimed responsibility for the murders.

Ejjoud, an underground imam, had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women and Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, the other, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had videoed the murders on his mobile phone.

The defence team argued there were "mitigating circumstances on account of their precarious social conditions and psychological disequilibrium".

Coming from modest backgrounds, with a "very low" level of education, the defendants lived for the most part in low-income areas of Marrakesh.

Jespersen's lawyers have accused authorities of having failed to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the murders.

Updated: July 19, 2019 02:17 AM

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