Morocco beheadings suspects arrested, authorities said.
Nine more people have been arrested in Morocco over links to the four initial suspects in the murder of two Scandinavian university students in a remote corner of the Atlas mountains, authorities said.
A total of 13 men have been detained after the murder of the female hikers from Denmark and Norway. Moroccan authorities are treating the killings as a terrorist act. The women’s bodies were found on Monday with stab wounds to their necks.
Morocco’s central bureau of judicial investigations said the nine new suspects had been carrying arms and “suspicious materials” used in the manufacture of explosives at the time of their arrests. No further details were available.
The remains of the Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland were put on a plane that left Casablanca for Copenhagen on Friday. Both women had lived in southern Norway, where they attended university.
Moroccan authorities said on Thursday the four initial suspects arrested after the murder had pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
The bodies of the two women were found on Monday. The pair had pitched their tent in an isolated mountain area two hours’ walk from the tourist village of Imlil. One of them had been beheaded, according to a source close to the investigation.
Imlil is a starting point for trekking and climbing tours of Mount Toubkal, which at 4,167 metres is the highest summit in north Africa.
Detectives are investigating a link to Islamic extremism after a video emerged showing the suspects pledging allegiance to Isis, the Rabat prosecutor has said.
Authorities are also working to determine the authenticity of a video posted on social media that allegedly shows the murder of one of the tourists, according to the prosecutor. “At this point, there is no tangible evidence that the video is not authentic,” Norway’s criminal investigations agency, Kripos, said on Friday.
The first four suspects to be arrested were detained in Marrakesh, an hour away from the scene of the murders. Younes Ouaziad, 27, lived with his parents in the Al-Azzouzia neighbourhood. His family and neighbours said on Friday that they were in shock.
“He was a boy without any history, private. There was nothing to suggest he could do something like that,” Abdelaati, 35, a vegetable seller in the neighbourhood, said.
Authorities in Denmark and Norway have condemned the murders. The Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, denounced what he called a “beastly crime”. Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, spoke of a “brutal and meaningless attack on innocents”.
A Moroccan government spokesman, Mustapha Khalfi, described the killings as a “terrorist act” while the prime minister, Saadeddine Othmani, said it was a “stab in the back of Morocco and Moroccans”.
Tourism is a cornerstone of Morocco’s economy, accounting for 10% of national income. The country has been spared jihadist attacks since 2011, when a bomb attack on a cafe in Marrakesh’s Jamaa El Fna Square killed 17 people, most of them European tourists.