Scandinavian hikers murder trial begins in Morocco

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A composite image shows two blonde women in an outdoor environmentImage copyright
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Image caption

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

Twenty-four people have gone on trial in Morocco over the killing of two Scandinavian tourists in December.

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

The defendants are facing charges including forming a terrorist cell.

Three of them are accused of pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and carrying out the killings. They face the death penalty.

The defendants appeared at a court in Salé, in north-western Morocco, on Thursday. The trial was then adjourned until later this month.

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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AFP

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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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AFP

Image caption

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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