Main suspect in Morocco tourist murders admits to killings in court
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Affected Countries: morocco;
The alleged leader of a extremist cell accused of killing two Scandinavian hikers in Morocco admitted to carrying the murders during his trial on Thursday, saying they 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 vendor Abdessamad Ejjoud, 25, told the court. He said another defendant, Younes Ouaziyad, killed the other hiker.
“We loved ISIS and we prayed to God for it,” he 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. Mr Ejjoud had been jailed for trying to join ISIS in Syria.
In theory, the killers could face the death penalty, but Morocco has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.
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 the city of Marrakesh, a popular tourist destination.
According to the charge sheet, their attackers travelled to the High Atlas mountains on December 12 on a mission to kill tourists. Several potential targets were passed over because the foreigners were accompanied by guides or local residents.
It was four days before the killers selected their targets, according to the prosecution. It said two of them carried out the killings while the third filmed them on a phone.
After the bodies were discovered, the Moroccan authorities were initially cautious, referring to a “criminal act” and wounds to the victims’ necks.
But that changed when the video surfaced showing a victim being beheaded.
In it, one of the killers refers to “enemies of Allah” and says the murders are to avenge the killings of extremists in Syria.
A separate video published in the initial aftermath of the murders showed the suspects pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.
The only foreigner among the defendants is Kevin Zoller Guervos, a 25-year-old 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 separately and sentenced in mid-April to 10 years in prison for “forming a terrorist group” and for his links to another extremist network.
Source: The National