A Moroccan court has sentenced three ISIL supporters to death and a fourth to life in prison over the beheadings of two Scandinavian women during a hiking trip in the High Atlas mountains last year.
Suspected ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud and two of his companions received the maximum penalty on Thursday over the December 2018 killings of Danish tourist Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and Norwegian Maren Ueland, 28.
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The defendants had asked God for forgiveness during their final statements at a packed courtroom in Sale, near the capital Rabat, following an 11-week trial of 24 suspects.
The three admitted to killing the women and said they had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), though the group itself had never claimed responsibility for the murders.
Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor and underground imam, had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women.
Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, confessed to the other murder, while Rachid Afatti, 33, admitted to filming the grisly killings on his mobile phone.
Prosecutors and social media users had called for the death penalty for all three, despite Morocco having a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.
The anti-terrorist court also handed down sentences between 15 years and life in jail for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2.
Ueland and Jespersen were found dead in their tent on December 17 near the summit of Mount Toubkal in the High Atlas mountain range with cuts to their necks.
The high-profile trial started in May with 24 suspects – 23 Moroccans and a Swiss national with Spanish citizenship – who were charged with premeditated murder, setting up a “terrorist” group and illegal possession of firearms. The crime caused widespread shock in Morocco and abroad.
The three killers of the women were “bloodthirsty monsters”, the prosecution said, pointing out that an autopsy report had found 23 injuries on Jespersen’s decapitated body and seven on that of Ueland.
Helle Petersen, Jespersen’s mother, in a letter read out in court last week, said: “The most just thing would be to give these beasts the death penalty they deserve.”
Ueland’s family had declined to take part in the trial.
The defence team 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 lived for the most part in low-income areas of Marrakesh.
The court, however, ordered the three to pay two million dirhams ($200,000) in compensation to Ueland’s parents.
Jespersen’s lawyers have accused authorities of failing to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the murders.
But the court rejected the Jespersen family’s request for 10 million dirhams in compensation from the Moroccan state for its “moral responsibility”.