May 2, 2019 / 3:20 PM / 5 months ago

Suspects in murder of Scandinavian women go on trial in Morocco

Defendants who are on trial for the killing of Scandinavian tourists Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Maren Ueland leave the criminal court in Sale, Morocco May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

SALE, Morocco (Reuters) - Twenty-three Moroccan men and a Swiss-Spanish convert to Islam appeared in an anti-terrorist court on Thursday accused of offences in connection with the killing of two Scandinavian women, judiciary officials said.

The trial’s opening session was immediately adjourned until May 16 to give the defence more time to prepare, the officials said.

Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, were found dead in December near the Moroccan village of Imlil, near Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak and a popular hiking and trekking destination.

Four of the accused had pledged allegiance to Islamic State in a video made three days before the bodies were found, but Moroccan police spokesman Boubaker Sabik said they had carried out the killings as “lone wolves”.

Saad Sahli, a defence lawyer, said the four were accused of forming criminals gangs to cause serious harm to public order, and of training people to join a terrorist movement.

The other defendants were later arrested as part of a wider sweep of people suspected of links to the main suspects. Sahli said the other defendants were accused of praising terrorism.

The trial is being held at an anti-terrorism court in Sale near the capital Rabat.

Compared with other countries in North Africa, Morocco has been largely insulated from militant attacks. The most recent took place in April 2011, when 17 people were killed in the bombing of a restaurant in Marrakech. In 2017 and 2018, Morocco dismantled 20 militant cells planning attacks in the country.

Reporting by Zakia Abdennebi, Writing by Ulf Laessing, Editing by William Maclean

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