Alleged ringleader admits Scandinavian hiker killings at Morocco trial

Members of the Moroccan security forces stand guard as a vehicle transporting militant suspects charged over the brutal murder of two Scandinavian women hiking in Morocco, drives backward to a court in Sale, near the capital Rabat on May 30, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 30 May 2019

Alleged ringleader admits Scandinavian hiker killings at Morocco trial

  • The trial in Morocco of two dozen men over the murders of two Scandinavian hikers resumed after previous hearings were swiftly adjourned
  • The two tourists had their throats slit while camping in an isolated area of the High Atlas mountains in December

The trial in Morocco of two dozen men over the murders of two Scandinavian hikers resumed after previous hearings were swiftly adjourned
A Dane and a Norwegian had their throats slit while camping in an isolated area of the High Atlas mountains in December
The main suspects, who allegedly pledged allegiance to Daesh, are all from the Marrakesh region, near the site of the killings which shocked the North African country.
The 24 defendants arrived on Thursday morning at the court in Sale, near Rabat, under heavy security.
They face charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder.
In theory, the killers could face the death penalty, but Morocco has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.
At a previous hearing, the court accepted a request by the Jespersen family’s lawyer for the government to be held “morally responsible” for the killings so they could receive compensation.
Three men are suspected of direct involvement in the killings. One of them, street vendor Abdessamad Ejjoud, had been jailed for trying to join Daesh in Syria.
The trial opened on May 2 but was adjourned to May 16 and then paused again after a brief hearing.
Nature lovers 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 ended in the foothills of Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the city of Marrakesh, a tourist magnet.
According to the charge sheet, the assailants traveled to the High Atlas mountains on December 12 on a mission to kill tourists.
Several potential targets were passed over because the foreigners were accompanied by guides or local residents.
It was four days before the killers selected their targets, according to the prosecution. It said two of them carried out the killings while the third filmed them on a phone.
After the bodies were discovered, the Moroccan authorities were initially cautious, referring to a “criminal act” and wounds to the victims’ necks.
But that changed when the video surfaced showing a victim being beheaded.
In it, one of the killers refers to “enemies of Allah” and says the murders are to avenge the killings of militants in Syria.
A separate video published in the initial aftermath of the murders showed the alleged killers pledging allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The only foreigner among the defendants is Spanish-Swiss 25-year-old Kevin Zoller Guervos, who moved to Morocco after converting to Islam.
The others come from modest backgrounds, scraping by on odd jobs and living in neglected areas of Marrakesh, the North African kingdom’s main tourist city.
Investigators said the “cell” was inspired by Daesh ideology, but Morocco’s anti-terror chief insisted the accused had no contact with the militant group in conflict zones.
Daesh has never claimed responsibility for the murders.


Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 35 min 33 sec ago

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.