Morocco: Moroccan authorities said three fugitive suspects were arrested on Thursday over the grisly murder of two Scandinavian hikers, as investigators follow a link to Islamic extremism.
Government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi described the killings as a “criminal and terrorist act.”
The arrests in the city of Marrakesh follow a first arrest on Monday of a man suspected of belonging to a radical Islamist group, hours after the discovery of the two women’s bodies in the High Atlas mountains of southern Morocco.
“The suspects have been arrested” and investigators were in the process of “verifying the terrorist motive, which is supported by the evidence and the findings of inquiries,” said the central judicial investigations office.
The bodies of Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Maren Ueland from Norway were found on Monday, after the two friends had pitched their tent at an isolated mountain site two hours’ walk from the tourist village of Imlil.
Investigators have released profiles of the three fugitives.
In one of the black and white photos circulated by the authorities, a suspect wears long white clothing and a white skullcap, and has a long beard.
A second suspect also has a long beard, while the third has a thin face and a goatee.
All three hail from Marrakesh, and one of them had “a court record linked to terrorist acts,” police spokesman Boubker Sabik said.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen denounced what he called a “beastly crime.”
Addressing reporters on Thursday morning, Rasmussen said “like the whole world, we react with consternation, disgust and a profound sadness.”
UPDATE – 1st January 2019
On Sunday, Moroccan authorities charged 15 people with terrorism violations over the beheading of two Scandinavian tourists, according to a report by Business Insider.
The group of people was arrested as Moroccan police investigated the murders of Louisa Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, a public prosecutor’s statement said.
The incident gained notoriety after a graphic video of one of the women being beheaded spread across the web. The authenticity of the video has reportedly been confirmed by Danish intelligence services.
According to Moroccan authorities, the investigators discovered other videos, showing some of the arrested men openly pledging allegiance to Daesh, the terror group whose smaller cells have spread from Middle Eastern regions to Africa and Asia.
Boubker Sabik, spokesman for Morocco’s national security agency, disclosed that the police stumbled upon a bomb-making operation during their investigation, which was possibly a part of a large-scale terror attack plan.
Last week, Sabik also said that despite their show of allegiance to Islamic State, the murderers were in fact “lone wolves,” selecting their targets at random and without guidance from the terror group.
More charges may follow as the investigation continues, Business Insider quoted Moroccan prosecutors as saying.