Danish PM joins hundreds at funeral for Dane slain in Morocco

The casket of Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen is seen ahead of the funeral service inside Fonnesbaek Church in Ikast, Sweden January 12, 2019. (Reuters/Denmark OUT)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Danish PM joins hundreds at funeral for Dane slain in Morocco

  • Moroccan authorities have arrested a total of 22 people in connection with the murders
  • They include four main suspects and a Spanish-Swiss man who had links to some of the suspects and who subscribed to “extremist ideology”

COPENHAGEN: Hundreds of mourners, including Denmark’s prime minister, packed a small Danish church on Saturday for the funeral of a woman hiker murdered in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in December.
Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, was killed together with 28-year-old Maren Ueland from Norway, as the two camped overnight at an isolated hiking spot south of Marrakesh while on vacation.
Their bodies were found the following day.
Moroccan authorities have said they were beheaded and are calling the crime a “terrorist” act.
Saturday’s 45-minute service for Jespersen was held at the Fonnesbaek Church in Ikast, in the Mid Jutland region of Denmark.
Speaking just before Jespersen’s casket was carried out of the church, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen vowed her life would not be forgotten.
“Though the pain is unbearable, we must not succumb. We must remember who we are, what we are made of, and what we stand for,” he said.
According to tabloid B.T., more than 400 people attended the service in the small, modern church. An adjoining room next to the main hall was opened to accomodate all of the guests.
Moroccan authorities have arrested a total of 22 people in connection with the murders. They include four main suspects and a Spanish-Swiss man who had links to some of the suspects and who subscribed to “extremist ideology,” Moroccan officials say.
The main suspects belonged to a cell inspired by Daesh ideology, but none of the four had contact with Daesh members in Syria or Iraq, Morocco’s counter-terror chief Abdelhak Khiam told AFP.
Jespersen and Ueland had been studying outdoor activities and tourism at the University of Southeastern Norway.
The pair decided to go to Morocco for Christmas and arrived for a month-long holiday on December 9.
They had traveled to the foothills of Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, not far from the tourist village of Imlil.
Friends have described the two young women as “adventurers” and “sociable.”
“The girls took all the necessary precautions before leaving for the trip,” Maren’s mother Irene told Norwegian’s NRK television in December.
Ueland’s funeral is to be held in Norway on January 21.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 1 min 18 sec ago
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.