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Morocco court sentences three to death for killing Scandinavian hikers

A Moroccan court on Thursday sentenced three suspected jihadists to death for the murders of two Scandinavian women beheaded while on a hiking trip in Morocco.

Morocco court sentences three to death for killing Scandinavian hikers
Photos and flowers left at Copenhagen City Hall in January in tribute to Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen / Ritzau Scanpix

Suspected ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud and two companions received the maximum penalty over the appalling December killings of Danish tourist Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland. 

The final court session of the 11-week trial took place on Thursday in Sale, near the north African country’s capital Rabat.

“We expect sentences that match the cruelty of the crime,” lawyer Khaled El Fataoui, speaking for the family of Danish victim Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, told AFP prior to the verdicts being reached.

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.”

Prosecutors called for the death penalty for the three main suspects behind the killings in the High Atlas mountains last December.

The maximum sentence was sought for 25-year-old suspected ringleader Ejjoud and two radicalised Moroccans, although Morocco has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Petitions on social media have likewise called for their execution.

The three admitted to killing Jespersen and Ueland, whose family declined to take part in the trial.

They also said they were supporters of the Islamic State (Isis) group, according to the prosecution, although Isis 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 body and seven on that of Ueland.

Ejjoud, an underground imam, had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women and Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, the other, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had videoed the murders on his mobile phone.

The defence 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.

Jespersen's lawyers have accused authorities of having failed to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the murders.

READ ALSO: Mother of murdered Danish student urges death sentences in Morocco trial

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TRIAL

Morocco death penalties confirmed for killers of Scandinavian hikers

A Moroccan anti-terrorist court on Wednesday confirmed death sentences handed down against three men convicted of beheading two Scandinavian tourists last December, and sentenced a fourth man to be executed.

Morocco death penalties confirmed for killers of Scandinavian hikers
Moroccan police stand guard during the trial in Sale earlier this year. Photo: AFP

All four defendants had been convicted at a trial in July, but the fourth defendant was originally sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of the two women, killed while hiking in the High Atlas mountains.

Those sentenced to death included ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud, a street vendor and underground imam, who had confessed to orchestrating the attack with two other radicalised Moroccans.

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

Although the death penalty remains legal in Morocco, there have been no executions there since 1993 because of a moratorium, and the issue of capital punishment is a matter of political debate.

The court in Sale, near Rabat, confirmed jail sentences of between five and 30 years against 19 other men, but increased the jail sentence of another man from 15 to 20 years.

The court also confirmed an order for the three men who carried out the killings and their accomplices to pay two million dirhams (190,000 euros) in compensation to Ueland's family.

But it refused a request from the Jespersen family for 10 million dirhams in compensation from the Moroccan state for its “moral responsibility”.

READ ALSO: Convicts appeal in Morocco case of murdered Danish, Norwegian hikers