Tourists killed in Morocco fell victim to 'dark forces that want to fight our values'

Image: Imlil is a tourist village in the High Atlas range
Imlil is a tourist village in the High Atlas range. Copyright Fadel Senna
By Associated Press with NBC News World News
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The killings have shocked the country, where such attacks on foreigners are extremely rare.


RABAT, Morocco — The lone suspect arrested in the killing of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco's Atlas Mountains is connected to a terrorist group, and three other suspects are on the run, officials said.

State television 2M reported that authorities consider the slayings a terrorist act. Local media reported that the suspects had links to the Islamic State group.

Victims Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway were discovered stabbed in the neck Monday by other tourists.

The killings have shocked Morocco, a popular tourist destination where such attacks on foreigners are extremely rare.

The Rabat public prosecutor's office said in a statement Wednesday that the only captured suspect has affiliations to a terrorist group, without naming the group.

The suspect was arrested in Marrakech on Tuesday. Three other suspects have been identified and but are still on the run, a security official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said Thursday that the killings can be considered "politically motivated and thus an act of terror." He added that "there are still dark forces that want to fight our values" and "we must not give in."

The remote mountainous region where the women were found dead is about 6.2 miles from the village of Imlil — often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak.

Broadcaster 2M released photos and videos Wednesday of forensic investigators and others working around the women's brightly colored tent on a rocky hillside. The broadcaster said the tent held food and belongings for three people, including an ID card.

Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators have video surveillance footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims' tent and leaving the area after the slaying.

Imlil is a tourist village in the High Atlas range.
Imlil is a tourist village in the High Atlas range.Fadel Senna

Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists and is a key ally of the United States and Europe in the fight against terrorism. Morocco has struggled for years with sporadic Islamic extremism, and more than 1,000 Moroccans are believed to have joined the Islamic State group.

The University of South-Eastern Norway said on its website that both women were studying to earn bachelor's degrees in outdoor life, culture and ecophilosophy. They attended a campus in Boe, southern Norway and west of Oslo.

Ueland had taken safety precautions before making the trip, her mother Irene Ueland told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Jespersen had been warned by her family against undertaking the journey, her mother Helle Jespersen told tabloid BT.

"What we know is that they were on a monthlong, private holiday in Morocco. Our thoughts go to the families," the University of South-Eastern Norway said on its home page.

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