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New trial for the murder of the two Scandinavian tourists

The trial of the alleged killers of two Scandinavian tourists, beheaded in December in southern Morocco, resumed Thursday near Rabat, a case that stirred the turmoil in the kingdom and for which the main suspects risk the death penalty.

The trial was opened on May 2 before the Criminal Division of the Salé Court of Appeal but was immediately dismissed at the request of lawyers who wanted to see the case better.

According to a source familiar with the matter, Thursday’s hearing should be devoted to purely formal questions, and the trial could take months before the verdict is handed down.

Twenty-four people in total appear Thursday for “apology of terrorism”, “attack on the life of people with premeditation” or “constitution of terrorist band”.

The main suspects, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, are accused of killing Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, a 24-year-old Danish student, and her friend Maren Ueland, a 28-year-old Norwegian, on the night of 16 to 17 December on an isolated site of the High Atlas where they camped. They risk the death penalty.

“We want to understand first, then ask for compensation, even if nothing can compensate for the pain of the families of the victims”, told Me Khalid Elfataoui, the lawyer of the parents of Louisa who were constituted civil party.

He says that he wants to ask the death penalty for the killers “even if the countries of origin of the victims are in principle opposed to it”.

Death sentences are still handed down in Morocco, but a moratorium has been applied de facto since 1993 and its abolition is debated.

Deadly threesome

The three main suspects in this case, born in the Marrakech region, are Abdessamad Ejjoud (25), Younes Ouaziyad (27) and Rachid Afatti (33).

At the opening of the trial, the first alleged leader of the group, sat smiling at the forefront of the accused, alongside his two companions. Nicknamed “Abu Musab”, he had already been in prison for trying to join ISIS in Syria.

A fourth Moroccan, 33-year-old Abderrahim Khayali, went with the other three to the mountains but returned to Marrakech to find a hideout shortly before the act.

The broadcast on social networks of a video showing the beheading of one of the victims, filmed by one of the men, had aroused the terror in the kingdom.

In this sequence, one of the suspects spoke of “revenge” for the “brothers” in Syria, where IS, under the blows of several offensives, had lost in December the majority of the territories he had seized since 2014.

Another video published in the wake showed the four main suspects lending allegiance to the IS.

Coming from modest backgrounds, with a level of education “very low” according to the investigators, they lived odd jobs in slums of Marrakech.

Arrested shortly after the tragedy, they had knives with blood marks on them.

Inspired by the IS

Their “terrorist cell” inspired by the ideology of the IS had no “contact” with operational office in Syria or Iraq, according to the investigators. IS never claimed their actions.

According to the indictment, the group had visited the High Atlas Mountains on December 12, decided to “murder tourists”. He had identified several potential targets, but renounced each time because of the presence of guides or residents.

On the night of December 16, Ejjoud, Ouaziyad and Afatti spotted the two victims who camped on an isolated site.

The other 20 defendants are being prosecuted for their links with the alleged killers. Aged 20 to 51 and presumed members of Ejjoud’s group, they are accused of “relaying propaganda images”, planning attacks in the kingdom or wanting to join ISIS in Syria and in Iraq.

The only stranger in the group, Kevin Zoller Guervos is a 25-year-old Swiss-spanish who has converted to Islam and settled in Morocco. According to the indictment, he is notably suspected of training the shooting suspects, according to the investigators. Before the investigating judge, he had declared that he was innocent.

Most defendants are defended by court-appointed lawyers.

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