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Tourism

Scandinavian tourists Maren Ueland and Louisa Jespersen stabbed to death in Morocco, suspect ‘linked to Islamic State’

  • Maren Ueland and Louisa Jespersen were university classmates on a month-long holiday
  • The two young women from Denmark and Norway were found dead in a popular hiking area in Morocco, where tourist murders are rare
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 7:25am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 December, 2018, 10:32pm

Moroccan authorities have arrested three fugitive suspects in the grisly murder of two Scandinavian hikers after an intensive manhunt, a source close to the investigation said on Thursday.

The arrests in the city of Marrakesh follow a first arrest on Monday, hours after the discovery of the two women’s bodies in the High Atlas mountains.

The man already in custody is suspected of belonging to an Islamic extremist group.

The women were identified in Scandinavian media as Louisa Vesterager Jespersen of Denmark, and Maren Ueland of Norway. They were discovered stabbed in the neck on Monday by other tourists, who alerted police, according to national media. Hiking in the area was temporarily suspended.

The killings have shocked Morocco, a popular tourist destination where such attacks on foreigners are extremely rare.

The Rabat public prosecutor’s office said in a statement Wednesday that one captured suspect has affiliations to a terrorist group, without naming the group.

The suspect was arrested in Marrakech on Tuesday.

The remote mountainous region where the women were found dead is 10km from the village of Imlil – often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak.

Broadcaster 2M released photos and videos Wednesday of forensic investigators and others working around the women’s brightly coloured tent on a rocky hillside. The broadcaster said the tent held food and belongings for three people, including an ID card.

Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators have video surveillance footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims’ tent and leaving the area after the slaying.

Authorities in Denmark and Norway warned their citizens from hiking without local guides in Morocco after the killing. Danish police officials said Wednesday they sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.

Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists and is a key ally of the United States and Europe in the fight against terrorism. Morocco has struggled for years with sporadic Islamic extremism, and more than 1,000 Moroccans are believed to have joined Islamic State.

Media in Norway identified the Norwegian hiker as Ueland, 28. The mayor of her family’s hometown of Time, Reinert Kverneland, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that he informed relatives of Ueland’s slaying. The victim’s mother, Irene Ueland, told NRK her daughter had taken safety precautions before making the trip.

The Danish victim was identified by media in Denmark as Jespersen, 24. Her mother, Helle Jespersen, told tabloid BT two police officers rang the doorbell Monday evening with the message that her daughter had been killed. She said the family had warned her against undertaking the journey.

The University of South-Eastern Norway said on its website that both women were studying to earn bachelor’s degrees in outdoor life, culture and ecophilosophy. They attended a campus in Boe, southern Norway.

“What we know is that they were on a month-long, private holiday in Morocco. Our thoughts go to the families,” the university said on its homepage, adding flags were flown at half-staff in their memory Tuesday.