Moroccan murders probed as terrorism

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg condemned the murders of two young Norwegian and Danish women in Morocco earlier this week as a “brutal and meaningless attack.” Solberg’s office confirmed on Thursday that the murders are being investigated as “a possible terrorist act.”

A solemn Prime Minister Erna Solberg started off her traditional year-end summary of her government’s activities with a statement about the murders in Morocco earlier this week of a young Norwegian woman and her Danish traveling companion. Solberg confirmed the murders are being investigated as a terrorist attack. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The Office of the Prime Minister was citing information from Moroccan authorities who have launched a major probe into the murders, which have been described as “bestial.” Moroccan news agencies reported Friday that three more men, aged 25 to 33, have been arrested in Marrakech, believed to be goat herders with ties to a terrorist organization. One man had been arrested earlier in the week along with two others reportedly held in custody. Arrest warrants were out on still others.

“Maren Ueland and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen lost their lives far too early and in a brutal manner,” Solberg stated at her annual year-end press conference on Thursday. “Our thoughts and our sympathy go to their families and friends in sorrow.”

Ueland, who was from Bryne in Rogaland County, studied in Telemark with Jespersen, who was from Ikast in Denmark. They were traveling during their school’s pre-Christmas holidays on a hiking trip in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and were found stabbed to death where they’d been camping by other tourists from France on Monday morning.

Murder video under examination
As details keep emerging about the murders, they’re being described as particularly gruesome, with the shocked French tourists who found them telling Norwegian newspaper VG that they hoped no one else would ever have to see what they saw. The victims’ bodies, they said, were found lying outside their tent, which was open. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said his government was reacting with “disgust and sorrow” to “the bestial murders,” carried out in a manner apparently much worse than the stab wounds initially reported.

Rasmussen confirmed reports that a video had been circulating on the Internet that allegedly portrays the murders of the two women. He also said that the men arrested had been linked to a terrorist organization. “All this has led to Moroccan authorities investigating this as a terrorist attack,” Rasmussen said.

Denmark’s police intelligence unit PET, which deals with national security cases, confirmed during the night that the Moroccan investigators were looking especially for ties to the extremist group IS. PET also confirmed that a video was circulating that purported to document the murders. Police units in both Norway and Denmark were working to confirm its authenticity.

“We’re talking about an unusually bestial murder of two completely innocent young women,” PET stated in a press release. “Even though the crime occurred far from Denmark, this is a case that Danish authorities are taking extremely seriously. National police and PET are in close contact with authorities in Morocco.”

‘Dark forces’
Norway’s foreign ministry was also more willing on Friday to comment on the murders, using much the same formulation as their Danish counterparts. They called the case “extremely serious,” adding that Norwegian and Danish police were also said to be working together on the case. Norway’s police intelligence unit PST was “following the case closely and contributing information we have to (state crime unit) Kripos,” said PST’s communications director Trond Hugubakken.

Rasmussen said at his own press conference in Denmark that the murders showed “that there still are dark forces that use violence to fight against us and the manner in which we live. That makes me angry, but also even more determined that we must never give up or give in to them.”

Norway’s prime minister also stressed that those behind the murders must be held responsible. “We have confidence that the Moroccan authorities are doing their utmost to arrest those responsible for the murders,” Solberg said, adding that Norwegian authorities were offering whatever assistance they could provide. “We all hope,” she said, that the cooperation would help lead to those responsible being prosecuted “for their brutal acts.”

“The fact that this is now seen as a possible terrorist act underscores the importance of fighting violent extremism,” Solberg said, claiming that her government makes that “a high priority both in Norway and in our international work.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund