World

Moroccan court sentences men to death for slaying of 2 women tourists

Three men were convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death by a Moroccan court Thursday for the brutal slaying in December of two Scandinavian women who were hiking in the Atlas Mountains.

Hikers Maren Ueland, 28, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, were stabbed to death in December

A man holds up a photo of Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway, right, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark. The 23 defendants charged with killing the two hikers in Morocco were sentenced Thursday. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/The Associated Press)

Three men were convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death by a Moroccan court Thursday for the brutal slaying of two Scandinavian women who were hiking in the Atlas Mountains.

The main defendants, carpenters Jounes Ouzayed and Rashid Afatti, and street merchant Abdessamad Al Joud, all asked Allah for forgiveness.

A fourth man who fled the scene, Khaiali Abderahman, was sentenced to life in prison.

After several hours of deliberation, the court handed 19 other accomplices jail terms ranging from five to 30 years. All of them have 10 days to appeal.

Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, were fatally stabbed in December. Their bodies were found on Dec. 17 near the Moroccan village of Imlil, a popular hiking destination south of Marrakech.

The slayings were recorded on video and posted online.

None of the 23 people involved in the crime reacted as their sentences were read out, but their families rushed out of the crowded courtroom crying.

The men claimed allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). All 23 addressed the court before the verdicts, most begging for leniency.

'Human beasts'

Morocco only rarely carries out death sentences. The last execution was in 1993 of Mustapha Tabet, a once-powerful Casablanca police commissioner convicted of raping and abusing hundreds of victims.

In closing arguments in June, the prosecutor described the three main defendants as "human beasts."

Kevin Zoller, a Swiss-Spanish convert to Islam who had pleaded innocent in the case, received a 20-year sentence. Prosecutors said he had links to the men who orchestrated the women's killings and direct contact with ISIS members in Syria via the encrypted messaging service Telegram.

Another Swiss man was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison after being convicted on charges including "deliberately helping perpetrators of terrorist acts" and training terrorists, the state-run news agency MAP said at the time.

Security forces guard a courtroom before the start of a final trial session for the suspects charged in connection with killing Ueland and Jespersen. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/The Associated Press)

Khalid El Fataoui, a lawyer for Vesterager's family, said he was "100 per cent satisfied" with the verdicts, adding that the young woman's mother had asked the court in a letter at an earlier hearing this month to sentence the killers to death.

"We obtained what she asked for," he said.

The court also ordered the four main defendants to pay the equivalent of $209,000 US in damages to the family of the Norwegian victim, but refused a demand from the Danish victim's family for the Moroccan state to pay damages.

El Fataoui said he would appeal that decision.

With files from Reuters