It was the barbaric nature of their deaths that shocked the world. On Dec. 17, the mutilated bodies of two Scandinavian backpackers were found high up in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, a popular trekking destination for tourists.
The two women – Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway – were stabbed several times, had their throats slit and were decapitated.
Authorities were quick to establish this heinous act was the work of terrorists. The horror didn’t end there for the families of the victims. One of the alleged murderers had filmed the attack on Jespersen and uploaded the video to social media, where it, perhaps not surprisingly, went viral after it was watched by thousands of people.
According to News Corp, the video, which is thought to be real, depicts one of the killers sawing at Jespersen’s neck with a large knife. In a terrible turn of events, people had callously left images of the attack – Ueland’s slit throat and Jespersen’s severed head – on Ueland’s mother Irene’s Facebook page.
Moroccan authorities have arrested 19 people over the attack after a series of raids were carried out across the country. While it was initially suspected Islamic State was responsible for the murders, police now believe the alleged killers acted outside of IS. At a Dec. 26 press conference in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, police spokesman Boubker Sabik called the murder suspects “lone wolves”.
The alleged ringleader of the attack was Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor from Marrakech, who along with three other main suspects had formed a cell that “discussed how to carry out a terrorist act inside the kingdom (of Morocco)”, according to the head of the country’s central office for judicial investigation, Abdelhak Khiam.
They targeted the Imlil region because it was popular with foreigners. The other main suspects are Abdelrahim el-Khayali, a 33-year-old plumber; Ouziad Younes, a 27-year-old carpenter and Rachid Afatti, a 33-year-old street vendor.
Ueland and Jespersen had set up camp about two hours’ walk from the village of Imlil near Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. The women were chosen at random. The wolves hunted their prey and moved in for the kill. Jespersen’s body was found near her tent.
Ueland and Jespersen were students at the University of South-Eastern Norway, where they studied outdoor recreation. The pair arrived in Morocco on Dec. 9 as part of a month-long trekking holiday.
Jespersen’s mother Helle Jespersen had urged her not to go on the holiday because she considered Morocco to be too dangerous. “We advised her not to go down because it’s such a chaotic place, and you’ve heard of people who have been killed down there,” she told Danish newspaper, BT. The devastated mother broke down when told her daughter’s throat was slashed.
“She was always happy and positive,” she said. “She brought out the best in everyone.”
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