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Convicts appeal in Morocco case of murdered Danish, Norwegian hikers

An appeal opens Wednesday in the case of 24 men convicted over the beheadings of two young Scandinavian women on a hiking trip in Morocco's High Atlas mountains last December.

Convicts appeal in Morocco case of murdered Danish, Norwegian hikers
Defendants arrive at the court in Sale on May 2nd. Photo: Stringer / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

The appeal at the court in Sale, near Rabat, comes six weeks after three Islamic State group supporters were sentenced to death over the murders which have shocked the North African country.

The other defendants, including the only non-Moroccan, Spanish-Swiss Muslim convert Kevin Zoller Guervos, were handed jail terms ranging from five years to life.

While those convicted are seeking lighter punishments, the family of 24-year-old Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen are urging the court to uphold the July 18th sentences, lawyers said.

Jespersen and her hiking companion 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland, nature lovers who were training to be guides, were on a Christmas holiday hiking trip when they were killed.

The first hearing is expected to be taken up by procedural issues.

Prosecutors and social media users had called for the death penalty for all three main suspects, despite Morocco having a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter who admitted to beheading one of the tourists, asked in court for “God's forgiveness”.

Third alleged assailant, 33-year-old Rachid Afatti, had admitted to filming the brutal murders on his mobile phone.

Khaled El Fataoui, lawyer for Jespersen's family, aims to prove the state's moral responsibility for the killings and to seek financial compensation.

The court has ordered the three main accused to pay 2 million dirhams ($200,000) in compensation to Ueland's parents, although El Fataoui has said they did not have the means.

The defence team of those convicted has 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 mostly lived in low-income areas of tourist hotspot Marrakesh.

READ ALSO: Morocco court sentences three to death for killing Scandinavian hikers

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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