Scandinavian tourists slain in likely terrorist plot

Louisa Vesterager Jespersen. Photo: Bovec Sports Center Archive via Reuters
Louisa Vesterager Jespersen. Photo: Bovec Sports Center Archive via Reuters
Maren Ueland. Photo: Private Handout/NTB Scanpix via Reuters
Maren Ueland. Photo: Private Handout/NTB Scanpix via Reuters

Moroccan police arrested on Thursday (local time) three people it had sought in a manhunt over the killing of two female tourists from Norway and Denmark in a suspected militant attack in the Atlas Mountains.

The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen (24) from Denmark and Maren Ueland (28) from Norway, were found on Monday in an isolated area near Imlil, on the way to Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak and a popular hiking destination.

The authorities had said a suspect arrested in tourist hub Marrakech on Tuesday was a member of a militant group, without naming the organisation. Danish intelligence said earlier on Thursday that Islamic State could be behind the killings.

Three more suspects sought by police had also been arrested in Marrakech, the Moroccan Bureau for Judicial Investigations said in a statement.

The evidence discovered so far pointed to a terrorist motive, it said.

General view of Imlil, a village nearby popular trekking area in the Atlas mountains where two tourists were found killed. Photo: NTB Scanpix/Terje Bendiksby via  Reuters
General view of Imlil, a village nearby popular trekking area in the Atlas mountains where two tourists were found killed. Photo: NTB Scanpix/Terje Bendiksby via Reuters
Preliminary investigations of a video shared on social media purporting to show the killing of one of the tourists had found that it was shot in a different place from where the bodies were found, a police source told Reuters.

"The video and preliminary investigation according to the Moroccan authorities indicate that the killings may be related to the terrorist organisation Islamic State," the Danish intelligence service said in a statement.

"This is a case of an unusually bestial killing of two totally innocent young women," it said.

Before leaving, Jespersen, from Denmark, had posted on Facebook about her upcoming trip.

"Dear friends, I'm going to Morocco in December. Any of you guys who's around by then or any mountain friends who knows something about Mount Toubkal?"

Compared to other countries in North Africa, Morocco has been largely insulated from militant attacks. The most recent took place in April 2011, when around 17 people were killed in a bombing of a restaurant in Marrakech.

"This is a brutal and meaningless attack on innocent people, which we react to with disgust and condemnation," said Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in a statement.

Morocco's Central Bureau for Judicial Investigations, established in 2015, says it has so far broken up 57 militant cells, including eight in 2018. 

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