The four suspects arrested following the murder of two young Scandinavian hikers in southern Morocco had, according to Rabat, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) organization, confirming the suspicions of the Moroccan authorities, who were bent Thursday for a “terrorist act”.
A statement released Thursday night by the prosecutor of Rabat confirmed the authenticity of a video relayed Thursday on social networks, showing four men presented as four suspects arrested in Marrakech pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, chief of the ultra-radical group.
The bodies of the two Norwegian and Danish tourists were discovered on Monday in a valley of the High Atlas Mountains renowned for its hiking trails. They were transported Thursday night from the Marrakech morgue to Casablanca airport where they must be repatriated to Norway and Denmark, according to an AFP journalist on site.
During a press conference, the spokesman of the government, Mustapha Khalfi, denounced a “terrorist” act. “Morocco strongly condemns this heinous crime,” said the head of government Saad-Eddine el Othmani.
The first suspect, belonging to “an extremist group”, was arrested on Monday, before the other three were apprehended Thursday morning after a notice of search, said the police.
Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, a 24-year-old Danish student, and a friend, Maren Ueland, a 28-year-old Norwegian, were in Morocco for holidays.
Their bodies were found on an isolated site where they had pitched their tent for the night, a two-hour walk from the village of Imlil, on the way to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. One of them was beheaded, according to a source close to the file.
In Copenhagen, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen denounced “a bestial crime”. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg condemned an innocent attack on “meaningless”.
In Rabat, the spokesman of the Moroccan government highlighted the “efforts” of the security services in the fight against terrorism and welcomed those who “succeeded in record time to arrest the perpetrators” of the double murder.
Fears for tourism
Since suicide attacks in Casablanca (33 dead) in 2003 and Marrakech (17 dead) in 2011, Morocco has beefed up its security apparatus and its legislative arsenal, while strengthening the supervision of the religious sector and international cooperation against terrorism.
“Since 2011, there has been no breach of security in Morocco. In seven years, this is a performance given the current climate of the region, “said Abdelak Bassou, former central director of Moroccan general services associated with the research center” Policy Center for the New South ” Rabat.
“An attack can happen everywhere, whatever the security measures and the degree of vigilance,” he said.
Like the authorities, the inhabitants of the village of Imlil are worried about the possible repercussions on the tourism sector.
Key sector for the Moroccan economy, tourism represents 10% of the wealth of the country and is the second employer after agriculture. In 2017, Morocco recorded a record number of tourists with 11.35 million visitors.
The three men arrested Thursday are from Marrakech, according to the search, and one of them has a criminal record “related to terrorist acts,” according to information obtained by AFP.
According to Moroccan media, the suspects who tried to leave the city are between 25 and 33 years old and lived in precarious conditions.