Funeral held for Norwegian student slain in Morocco

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Moroccans living in the High Atlas mountains show their solidarity with Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland who were killed by extremists last month. (Reuters)
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Students and staff of the University of Southeastern Norway observe two minutes silence for Maren Ueland and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2019
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Funeral held for Norwegian student slain in Morocco

  • Moroccan ambassador Lamia Radi joined the mourners for 28-year-old Maren Ueland
  • Moroccan authorities have said that Ueland was killed together with 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen of Denmark in a terrorist act

OSLO: The Moroccan ambassador attended the funeral Monday of the Norwegian woman hiker murdered last December in Morocco along with her Danish friend, reading messages of sympathy from her country’s citizens.
Ambassador Lamia Radi joined the mourners for 28-year-old Maren Ueland, including Norway’s health minister and several dozen students from the University of Southeastern Norway, where the two women studied.
The church service took place in the southeast town of Time.
During the service, Radi denounced the “barbary” and “ignominy” of the killings, and read aloud messages from Moroccan people expressing their sadness.
“Morocco wanted to be present today to express first its solidarity, to share the sorrow of the family,” she told Norway’s TV2 ahead of the ceremony.
“At the same time, (we want) to make it very clear that we strongly condemn the horrible murders of those innocent girls,” she said.
Moroccan authorities have said that Ueland was killed together with 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen of Denmark in a “terrorist act.”
They were attacked as they camped overnight Dec 16-17 at an isolated hiking spot in the High Atlas mountains. Their bodies were found the following day, beheaded.
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 group 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’s funeral was held on January 12 in Denmark.


How a suicide bomber at one Sri Lankan church turned Easter celebration into ‘hell’

Updated 9 min 27 sec ago
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How a suicide bomber at one Sri Lankan church turned Easter celebration into ‘hell’

  • Priest from St. Sebastian’s parish and man who lost parents in the blast tell Arab News about the carnage
  • Two cabin crew from Saudi Arabian Airlines were among the foreign victims in Sunday’s attacks

DUBAI/COLOMBO: The children would have been gathered in the middle of St. Sebastian’s church with their families during the Easter Sunday morning mass when the bomber detonated his device, killing more than 100 people.

Just months before, on Jan. 20, the church congregation had celebrated its 150th anniversary, the building having recently undergone a major renovation.

But with the flick of a switch, its interior was reduced to rubble, mutilated bodies strewn across the pews and the floor where they had previously knelt to pray.

 “It was supposed to be a day of celebration,” said Dubai-based priest Father Jude Angelo. “Instead, we’re mourning such a terrible loss.”

He is currently the assistant priest at Jebel Ali Church in Dubai, but his home is the Sri Lankan village of Katuwapitiya, where he was a member of St. Sebastian’s parish, the site of the deadliest of Sunday’s attacks, which killed at least 290 and injured more than 500 in churches and hotels across the country.

 “I’ve been told that the bomber detonated his device while standing in the middle of the church,” he said.

 “That’s where most of the children — some very young — and their families would’ve been congregated. I don’t understand the meaning of this attack … I just feel numb.”

Father Angelo found out about the blast via his mobile phone: People sent him images from inside the church.

“I have no words to express what I saw in those images. The church is broken. I saw images of dead bodies … parts of bodies … You couldn’t tell who these people were, their bodies were so badly mutilated,” he said.

The congregation now has to plan for dozens of funerals. The roads leading to St. Sebastian’s are lined with white flags and throngs of crowds despite the heat.

Almost every other home along the lanes have banners hanging outside the walls, announcing deaths of family members. The whole neighborhood is in mourning.

Malith Wimanna was due to fly out for a conference in Malaysia on Monday, and went for mass on Saturday evening instead. His parents attended the Sunday mass, and both lost their lives in the attack.

“I ran to the church as soon as I heard about the attack,” he said. “It was hell. I couldn’t think of anything else. There was nothing to feel, nothing came to mind.”

Wimanna identified both his parents in the debris. He said both had possibly died instantly, and his father was almost unidentifiable.  

The government announced on Monday that the attackers were members of the National Tawheed Jamaat (NTJ), an extremist Muslim group that appeared after the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009. 

“The Catholics and Christians here are a very peaceful community,” said Father Anton Canisius, one of the many priests present at the funeral of Wimanna’s parents.

When asked about fears of the NTJ’s attacks propelling communal violence, the soft-spoken priest insisted that none of the Sri Lankan Catholic community would retaliate.

“There are people who’ll try to take advantage of these situations and try to make use of this. We’ve asked the government for security and for it to maintain peace,” he said.

Minister of Transport and Highways Kabeer Hashim on Monday announced compensation for those killed and injured in the blasts. He also said the damaged churches will be restored by the state to their original condition.

Easter is a popular time for holidaymakers to visit Sri Lanka from all over the world, and dozens of the victims of Sunday’s attacks were foreign tourists.

Among the foreigners killed were Mohamed Jafar and Hany Osman, cabin crew from Saudi Arabian Airlines, who were in transit at one of the three hotels hit. As of Monday evening their families, who had arrived in Colombo, had not yet finalized burial arrangements, though they were in consultation with the Saudi Embassy in Colombo, currently headed by Ambassador Abdulnasser Al-Harthi.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said in a statement that his ministry is working closely with the Foreign Ministry and local diplomatic missions to “ensure formalities with regard to the victims are sorted out as quickly as possible.”

He added: “The government has already offered assistance to all victims, the damaged places of worship as well as the hotels affected by Sunday’s attacks.”

Foreign victims were also from Japan, Australia, France, the US, India, Bangladesh, the UK, China, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. They included three of the four children of Danish business tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, who is the Nordic country’s richest man and a major private landowner in Britain. 

Seventeen foreigners injured in the attacks are also being treated at the Colombo National Hospital as well as a private hospital in Colombo, while others have been treated and discharged.

Many of the tourists were killed in suicide attacks that targeted four hotels. At the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo, a suicide bomber waited in a queue for the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet before setting off explosives strapped to his back.

 At the capital’s Shangri-La Hotel, Sri Lankan celebrity chef Shantha Mayadunne was enjoying breakfast with her family in the dining room. Her daughter Nisanga had posted a photo of the group on Facebook.

 Minutes later, a massive explosion ripped through the hall, killing several, including the mother and daughter.

 “It is with great sadness that we can confirm that we are aware of a number of casualties among our guests and colleagues. This includes three of our colleagues, who were fatally injured in the course of their duties,” a Shangri-La spokeswoman said in a statement.

 “We will continue to work closely with local authorities and emergency services to provide our fullest assistance and support to all affected parties,” she added.

 “Our hotel remains secured by the military and the police. We have also decided that the hotel will be closed until further notice.”

 The spokeswoman said the hotel is providing alternative accommodation for affected guests, and has set up a dedicated helpline for guests and their loved ones to call: +603 2025 4619.