RABAT: Two dozen suspects are set to go on trial in Morocco Thursday for offenses linked to the gruesome murder of two young Scandinavian hikers late last year that shocked the North African country.
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.
Three main defendants accused of direct involvement in the murders and who allegedly pledged allegiance to Daesh could theoretically face the death penalty.
A total of 24 defendants are due to appear before a criminal court in Sale to answer charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder.
A Spanish-Swiss is among the suspects who are due to face justice in the city near Rabat. But families of the slain hikers and their lawyers will not attend the trial, according to information obtained by AFP.
Nature lovers, the two friends 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 km 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 killers on a mobile phone — circulated on social networks.
The video did the rounds online in Morocco, Norway and Denmark.
Danish police said last month they had launched prosecutions against 14 people suspected of sharing the gruesome video.
A separate video in the initial aftermath of the murder showed the alleged killers pledging allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, under the terrorist organization’s banner.
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, all had struggled to get by in poor districts of Marrakesh.
They made a living from “small jobs” and were educated to a “very low” level, according to investigators.
Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor referred to as the emir of the group by peers, is the suspected ringleader of the operational cell and a wider group he formed in Marrakesh, according to investigators. Twenty others are due to face justice in Sale for links to the alleged killers.