Three Moroccans get death sentence for killing Scandinavian women

Security forces stand guard outside a court room before the start of a final trial session for suspects charged in connection with killing of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco's Atlas Mountains, in Sale, near Rabat, Morocco, Thursday, July 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 July 2019

Three Moroccans get death sentence for killing Scandinavian women

  • The Moroccan street vendor admitted to killing 24-year-old Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland in murders that shocked the North African country

SALE, Morocco: Three Daesh supporters were sentenced to death by a court in Morocco on Thursday over the beheadings of two Scandinavian women on a hiking trip in the High Atlas Mountains.

The defendants had asked God for forgiveness during their final statements at a packed courtroom in Sale, near the capital Rabat, following an 11-week trial of 24 suspects.

His expressionless face framed by a beard and a traditional kufi cap, alleged ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud appealed to God to “forgive” him.

The 25-year-old street vendor has confessed to orchestrating the attack with two other radicalized Moroccans last December.

He and two others admitted to killing 24-year-old Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland in murders that shocked the North African country.

Prosecutors and social media users had called for the death penalty for all three, despite Morocco having a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter who admitted to beheading one of the tourists, also asked for “God’s forgiveness.”

“There is no god but God,” said the third alleged assailant 33-year-old Rachid Afatti, who has admitted to filming the grisly murders on his mobile phone. Journalists had gathered outside the anti-terrorist court ahead of the ruling.

“We expect sentences that match the cruelty of the crime,” lawyer Khaled El Fataoui, speaking for Jespersen’s family, told AFP.

Helle Petersen, her mother, in a letter read out in court last week, said: “The most just thing would be to give these beasts the death penalty they deserve.”

Ueland’s family had declined to take part in the trial.

The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2.

The court sentenced Kevin Zoller Guervos, a Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam, to 20 years for joining a “terrorist group.”

The only non-Moroccan in the group, Guervos was accused of having taught the main suspects how to use an encrypted messaging service and to use weapons.

His lawyer, Saad Sahli, said Guervos had cut all ties with the other suspects “once he knew they had extremist ideas” more than 18 months ago.

All but three of those on trial had said they were supporters of the Daesh group, according to the prosecution, although IS itself has never claimed responsibility for the murders.

The three killers of the women were “bloodthirsty monsters,” the prosecution said, pointing out that an autopsy report had found 23 injuries on Jespersen’s decapitated body and seven on that of Ueland.

Ejjoud had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women and Ouaziyad the other while Afatti filmed.

The defense team argued there were “mitigating circumstances on account of their precarious social conditions and psychological disequilibrium.”

Coming from modest backgrounds, with a “very low” level of education, the defendants lived for the most part in low-income areas of Marrakesh.

The court however ordered the three to pay 2 million dirhams ($200,000) in compensation to Ueland’s parents.

Jespersen’s lawyers have accused authorities of failing to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the murders.

But the court rejected the Jespersen family’s request for 10 million dirhams in compensation from the Moroccan state for its “moral responsibility.”

Turkey vows not to quit besieged army post in Syria

Updated 24 August 2019

Turkey vows not to quit besieged army post in Syria

  • Calls for a ‘political solution’ to the crisis 

BEIRUT: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said Ankara wants “a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” and that its soldiers “will not leave the besieged observation post south of Idlib” after Syrian regime forces took control of the area.
The recent advances by Bashar Assad’s forces have put Turkish troops stationed in the region in the firing line and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, threatening Ankara’s hopes of preventing a fresh wave of refugees on its southern border.
Speaking at a press conference in Lebanon, Cavusoglu said: “We are not there because we are unable to leave but because we do not want to.”
He denied that the Turkish forces are isolated in Morek, where their largest observation post is based. He said: “This post is not encircled, and no one can isolate it. The Syrian regime forces are leading activities in the vicinity of this post, we are discussing this with Russia and Iran.”
His comments followed a telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the Anatolia Agency, Erdogan told Putin that the “developments in Idlib would cause a major humanitarian crisis” and “undermine the process of reaching a settlement in Syria and pose a serious threat to Turkish national security.”
Cavusoglu met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Rafic Chlala, the media adviser to Aoun, told Arab News: “The Turkish official gave a presentation on the current military developments in Idlib, and a view of the future was delivered, but he did not ask anything from Lebanon.”
During a joint press conference with Bassil, Cavusoglu said: “Turkey will exchange experiences with Lebanon to return Syrian refugees to their country. Ankara understands Beirut’s suffering from the refugee crisis.”
He added: “Syrian refugees are afraid of returning to their country. This fear must be dispelled, and the international community should give greater importance to meeting the basic needs of Syrians.”
Lebanon hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Beirut estimates the real figure is over 1.5 million.
Cavusoglu proposed “to organize a joint forum with Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq on the return of Syrians and invite the international community to participate.”
During his meeting with Cavusoglu, Aoun said: “The international community’s continued disregard for the need for Syrian refugees to return to their country raises many questions.”
According to his media office, Aoun said the return of displaced people to their homes remains a common concern for Lebanon and Turkey. He reiterated that the provision of international assistance to refugees inside Syria is an important incentive for their return.
Aoun added: “Until now, Syrian refugees who have returned to Syria under the supervision of the Lebanese General Security did not suffer any persecution. The process of returning refugees will continue in turn.”
Cavusoglu said that Turkey shares Lebanon’s stance in supporting the return of refugees.
He told Aoun that Turkey will vote for Lebanon to establish the Human Academy for Encounter and Dialogue when the item is submitted to the UN on Sept. 13.
Berri’s media office said that talks with Cavusoglu included “the general situation in the region, the need to uphold the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, the importance of a political solution in Syria that ensures its unity and sovereignty and the return of refugees.”
Cavusoglu said: “Turkey views Lebanon as a neighbor and a sister country. The stability and growth of this country are very important for us and the region. We will continue to support Lebanon, and many Turkish energy companies want to invest there.”
The Turkish president will visit Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, the presidency said in a statement, days after a Turkish convoy was hit by an airstrike in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the Putin-Erdogan meeting on Aug. 27 to the Russian agencies.