Wednesday 19 June 2019

Isil link to tourist murderers

Three held after bodies of Scandinavian women found in Morocco

Grisly: Murder victim Louisa Vesterager Jespersen. Photo: Reuters
Grisly: Murder victim Louisa Vesterager Jespersen. Photo: Reuters

Jan M Olesn

Three more suspects have been arrested over the killings of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco's Atlas Mountains.

The development came as the Danish intelligence agency said the killings "may be related" to Islamic State (Isil).

The three new suspects were arrested in Marrakech as they tried to flee in a bus, according to national security spokesman Boubker Sabik.

He said authorities are investigating whether the three have terrorist affiliations, adding that no other suspects are being sought.

They were named as Rachid Afatti, Ouziad Younes and Ejjoud Abdessamad.

Another suspect was arrested on Tuesday, and a Moroccan prosecutor said he had affiliations to an extremist group, without naming it.

Suspects Rachid Afatti, Ouziad Younes, and Ejjoud Abdessamad
Suspects Rachid Afatti, Ouziad Younes, and Ejjoud Abdessamad

The killings have shocked Morocco, a popular tourist destination where attacks on foreigners are extremely rare.

The women's bodies were found on Monday in the Atlas Mountains, an area prized by hikers.

The killings can be considered "politically motivated and thus an act of terror", Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said.

He said "there are still dark forces that want to fight our values" and "we must not give in".

Mr Loekke Rasmussen confirmed the victims' identities as Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, of Denmark, and Maren Ueland, from Norway.

"What should have been a holiday trip turned into a nightmare," he told reporters.

In neighbouring Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said terrorism "is not the only lead that is being investigated in Morocco" but said the case still "emphasises the importance of combating violent extremism".

"We trust that Moroccan authorities are doing their utmost to arrest those responsible for the murders," she told a news conference.

In a statement, Denmark's domestic security agency said the preliminary investigations "indicate, according to Moroccan authorities, that the killings may be related to the terrorist organisation the Islamic State group".

The bodies were found in a remote mountainous region, 10km from the village of Imlil - often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak.

Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators have video surveillance footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims' tent and leaving the area after the killings.

The website of state broadcaster 2M published photos that it said were of the three suspects taken on a bus.

The Norwegian victim's mother, Irene Ueland, told broadcaster NRK that her daughter had taken safety precautions before making the trip.

Authorities in Denmark and Norway on Wednesday warned their citizens against hiking without local guides in Morocco. Danish police officials said they have sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.

Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists but has battled with Islamic extremism for years, and more than a thousand Moroccans are believed to have joined Isil. An anti-terrorism rally is planned for Morocco's capital tomorrow. One of the women had been beheaded, a source said.

Mr Sabik said terrorism was suspected and that the three suspects on the run had been "identified and a search for them was under way by all the security services".

One of the three had "a court record linked to terrorist acts", he said, while the prosecutor general's office said the man in custody also belonged to an extremist group.

"Radical Islam is not ruled out, due to the profile of the suspect arrested and of the three men wanted," a source close to the investigation said.

Investigations are also continuing to authenticate a video shared on social media claiming to show the killing of one of the tourists, the prosecutor general said in a statement.

Irish Independent

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