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.


Turkish Armenians worried about govt meddling in spirituality

Updated 44 min 54 sec ago

Turkish Armenians worried about govt meddling in spirituality

  • The country’s Armenian community has about 70,000 members

ANKARA: Ahead of the election of the 85th patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Turkey on Dec. 11, the Turkish Ministry of Interior set the condition that candidates must be based in Turkey, sparking criticisms by many, seeing it as an interference in the spiritual functioning of the patriarchate.

The legal condition decreased the number of candidates from 12 to just two who meet the requirement. The election will therefore be between two Istanbul-based Armenian clergymen, Aram Atesyan and Sahak Mashalyan.

Historically the legitimate condition of eligibility applied in previous patriarchal elections was being born into an Armenian family from Turkey.

The country’s Armenian community has about 70,000 members. About 1,000 voters out of 15,000 eligible voters boycotted the first round of elections, held between Dec. 7-8, calling into question the legitimacy of the process.

The second round of the elections will be held on Dec. 11 when the elected delegates will choose the next patriarch. Mashalyan is considered the favorite.

“This restriction may lead to the end of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate, because we may find no candidate in the next elections,” Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said. Paylan considered the attempt an intervention into the Armenian community’s own religious freedoms.

“It is totally unjust. Religion requires conscience and justice,” he said. During previous patriarch elections in Turkey, many Armenian clerics from around the world could have attended.

Sebuh Çulciyan, who was a close friend of assassinated Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and now lives in Armenia, was also a candidate for the election. But, due to the new regulations, he couldn’t run.

Former Patriarch Mesrop Mutafyan, who was allegedly elected in 2008 against the wishes of the Turkish government and became weakened under much pressure, had been suffering from dementia, pushing the government to replace him with Ateshian in 2010 as General Vicar of the Armenian Patriarch of Turkey.

Armenian Apostolic Church tradition requires that a patriarch must either die or resign from his position before his successor is elected.

Ateshian has been criticized by many people in the Armenian community as being too open to Turkish government propaganda.

In 2017, Karekin Bekchiyan, another Armenian cleric, was elected governor of the patriarchate. While the Ministry of Interior did not respond to a petition for the elections coming from the Armenian community that were sent in August 2017, the local authorities of Istanbul, where the patriarchate is based, denounced the legal proceedings regarding the election of Bekchiyan and declared his decisions invalid.

Rober Koptas, an Armenian publisher in Istanbul, told Arab News that the feeling of victimhood among the Armenian community in Turkey was causing alienation from the church.

The inability to elect a patriarch for almost a decade, and the dependency on political will, had, he said, seriously harmed Turkey’s Armenian community.

Turkey’s historical relations with Armenia have been generally hostile, while the US House of Representatives recently took a landmark decision to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, angering decision-makers in Ankara.