Morocco court condemns three to death for killing Scandinavian hikers

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A Moroccan court on Thursday condemned three Islamic State group supporters to death for the murder of two Scandinavian women beheaded while on a hiking trip in the High Atlas mountains.

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

The anti-terrorist court in Sale, near the capital Rabat, issued the verdict following an 11-week trial in a case that has shocked the North African country.

The three admitted to killing the women and said they had been ISIS supporters, although the group itself has never claimed responsibility for the murders.

Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor and underground imam, had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women.

Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, confessed to the other murder, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had videoed the murders on his mobile phone.

Prosecutors had called for the death penalty despite Morocco having a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

“We expect sentences that match the cruelty of the crime,” lawyer Khaled El Fataoui, speaking for the family of Jespersen, told AFP.

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.”

The prosecution labelled all three “bloodthirsty monsters”, pointing out that an autopsy report had found 23 injuries on Jespersen’s decapitated body and seven on that of Ueland.

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 tourist hotspot Marrakesh.

The court however ordered the three to pay 2 million dirhams ($200 000) in compensation to Ueland’s parents.

Jespersen’s lawyers have accused authorities of failing to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the murders.

But the court rejected the Jespersen family’s request for 10 million dirhams in compensation from the Moroccan state for its “moral responsibility”.

The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2.