Scandinavian hikers murder trial begins

A composite image shows two blonde women in an outdoor environmentImage copyright
AFP / Facebook

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Maren Ueland, left, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen were found dead in a popular tourist area

The trial of twenty-four people over the killings of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco has been opened and adjourned.

The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, were found in the High Atlas mountains in December.

Both had been beheaded. Their killings prompted hundreds to attend vigils.

Three main defendants who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group (IS) could face the death penalty.

The remaining defendants will appear at the court in Salé, in north-western Morocco, to face charges including promoting terrorism and forming a terrorist cell.

Morocco has had a moratorium on executions since 1993, but death sentences are still occasionally handed down. There have been online petitions calling for anyone convicted of the killings to be executed.

The families of the victims and their lawyers will not attend the trial, according to AFP news agency.

What do we know about the case?

The bodies were found in an isolated area near a popular tourist spot in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains on 17 December.

A video appearing to show the beheading of one of the women was shared widely on social media by IS supporters.

Police in Norway have said that video is almost certainly real. In Denmark, charges have been brought against 14 people suspected of sharing the footage.

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Three main defendants who claimed allegiance to IS could face the death penalty

Police said the main suspects had pledged allegiance to IS, although investigators believe there was no contact made with jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq.

Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor, is accused of being the group’s ringleader.

A dual Swiss-Spanish national is also among those set to appear in court. He was detained last year in Marrakesh for allegedly trying to recruit Moroccans to carry out terrorist plots.

Last month, another Swiss national was tried separately and sentenced to 10 years in prison on a number of charges including forming a terrorist group.

Who were the victims?

Ms Jespersen and Ms Ueland had been studying outdoor activities at the University of Southeastern Norway.

They reportedly shared an apartment and were training to be guides.

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The victim’s bodies were found in an isolated area in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains

They had arrived on a month-long holiday in Morocco on 9 December and travelled to the foothills of Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, 10km (6 miles) from Imlil.

Their bodies were found in their tent.

Both women had taken full precautions ahead of their trip, Ms Ueland’s mother said last year.

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