Morocco court adjourns trial in murder of Scandinavian hikers

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A picture taken on May 2, 2019 shows a suspect, in the murder of two Scandinavian hikers, arriving for his trial at a Moroccan court in Sale near the capital Rabat. (AFP)
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A picture taken on May 2, 2019 shows a suspect, in the murder of two Scandinavian hikers, arriving for his trial at a Moroccan court in Sale near the capital Rabat. (AFP)
Updated 03 May 2019
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Morocco court adjourns trial in murder of Scandinavian hikers

SALE: A Moroccan court adjourned on Thursday for two weeks the trial of two dozen suspects charged in connection with the murder of two Scandinavian hikers minutes after it opened.
Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland had their throats slit before they were beheaded in December at an isolated site in the High Atlas mountains.
The killings shocked the North African country and three main defendants accused of direct involvement, who allegedly pledged allegiance to Daesh, could face the death penalty.
A total of 24 defendants — one of whom shot a smile at journalists — appeared in the criminal court in Sale to face charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder.
The opening hearing was immediately postponed until May 16 after defense lawyers requested more time to examine the case.
A Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam is among the suspects on trial in the city near Rabat, accused of teaching the main suspects how to use encrypted communications and how to fire a gun.
Nature lovers, the two friends Jespersen and Ueland shared an apartment and went to Norway’s Bo University where they were studying to be guides.
They had traveled together to Morocco for their Christmas holidays.
Their lives were cut short in the foothills of Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the city of Marrakesh, a tourist magnet.
After the bodies were discovered, the Moroccan authorities were initially cautious, referring to a “criminal act” and wounds to the victims’ necks.
But that all changed when a video showing one of the victims being beheaded — filmed by one of the apparent killers on a mobile phone — circulated on social networks.
One of those in the footage refers to “enemies of Allah” and revenge for brothers in Syria.
A separate video in the initial aftermath of the murder showed the alleged killers pledging allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Investigators said the “cell” was inspired by Daesh ideology, but Morocco’s anti-terror chief insisted the accused had no contact with the extremist group in conflict zones.
Daesh has never claimed responsibility for the double-murder.
Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor referred to as the emir of the group by peers, is the suspected ringleader, according to investigators.
Police quickly arrested a first suspect in the suburbs of Marrakesh, and three others were arrested a few days later when they tried to leave the city by bus.
Aged from 25 to 33, they all lived Marrakesh.
They had recently embraced Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, according to friends, neighbors and some family members.
A lawyer for one of the victim’s families told AFP he would seek the death penalty for the murders.
A de facto moratorium on carrying out executions has been in place in Morocco since 1993.
A second Swiss citizen arrested after the double-murder was tried separately and jailed in mid-April for 10 years on charges including “forming a terrorist group.”


Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

  • Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal
  • The US quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.