Convicts appeal in Morocco case of murdered Danish, Norwegian hikers

An appeal opens Wednesday in the case of 24 men convicted over the beheadings of two young Scandinavian women on a hiking trip in Morocco's High Atlas mountains last December.

Convicts appeal in Morocco case of murdered Danish, Norwegian hikers
Defendants arrive at the court in Sale on May 2nd. Photo: Stringer / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

The appeal at the court in Sale, near Rabat, comes six weeks after three Islamic State group supporters were sentenced to death over the murders which have shocked the North African country.

The other defendants, including the only non-Moroccan, Spanish-Swiss Muslim convert Kevin Zoller Guervos, were handed jail terms ranging from five years to life.

While those convicted are seeking lighter punishments, the family of 24-year-old Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen are urging the court to uphold the July 18th sentences, lawyers said.

Jespersen and her hiking companion 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland, nature lovers who were training to be guides, were on a Christmas holiday hiking trip when they were killed.

The first hearing is expected to be taken up by procedural issues.

Prosecutors and social media users had called for the death penalty for all three main suspects, despite Morocco having a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter who admitted to beheading one of the tourists, asked in court for “God's forgiveness”.

Third alleged assailant, 33-year-old Rachid Afatti, had admitted to filming the brutal murders on his mobile phone.

Khaled El Fataoui, lawyer for Jespersen's family, aims to prove the state's moral responsibility for the killings and to seek financial compensation.

The court has ordered the three main accused to pay 2 million dirhams ($200,000) in compensation to Ueland's parents, although El Fataoui has said they did not have the means.

The defence team of those convicted has argued there were “mitigating circumstances on account of their precarious social conditions and psychological disequilibrium”.

Coming from modest backgrounds, with a “very low” level of education, the defendants mostly lived in low-income areas of tourist hotspot Marrakesh.

READ ALSO: Morocco court sentences three to death for killing Scandinavian hikers

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Danish terror trial begins against Iranian separatists

Three leaders of an Iranian Arab separatist group pleaded not guilty to financing and promoting terrorism in Iran with Saudi Arabia's backing, as their trial opened in Denmark on Thursday.

Danish terror trial begins against Iranian separatists
File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The three risk 12 years in prison if found guilty.

Aged 39 to 50, the trio are members of the separatist organisation ASMLA (Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz), which is based in Denmark and the Netherlands and which Iran considers a terrorist group.

The three, one of whom is a Danish citizen, have been held in custody in Denmark since February 2020.

Gert Dyrn, lawyer for the eldest of the three, told AFP that in his client’s opinion “what they are charged with is legitimate resistance towards an oppressive regime.”

“They are not denying receiving money from multiple sources, including Saudi Arabia, to help the movement and help them accomplish their political aim,” Dyrn said. 

His client has lived as a refugee in Denmark since 2006. 

According to the charge sheet seen by AFP, the three received around 30 million kroner (four million euros, $4.9 million) for ASMLA and its armed branch, through bank accounts in Austria and the United Arab Emirates.

The trio is also accused of spying on people and organisations in Denmark between 2012 and 2020 for Saudi intelligence.

Finally, they are also accused of promoting terrorism and “encouraging the activities of the terrorist movement Jaish Al-Adl, which has activities in Iran, by supporting them with advice, promotion, and coordinating attacks.”

The case dates back to 2018 when one of the three was the target of a foiled attack on Danish soil believed to be sponsored by the Iranian regime in retaliation for the killing of 24 people in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, in September 2018.


Tehran formally denied the attack plan in Denmark, but a Danish court last year jailed a Norwegian-Iranian for seven years for his role in the plot. 

That attack put Danish authorities on the trail of the trio’s ASMLA activities.

Sunni Saudi Arabia is the main rival in the Middle East of Shia Iran, and Tehran regularly accuses it, along with Israel and the United States, of supporting separatist groups.

Lawyer Gert Dyrn said this was “the first case in Denmark within terror law where you have to consider who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter.”