Convicts appeal in Morocco case of slain Scandinavian hikers

SALÉ, Morocco (AFP) – An appeal opened yesterday in the case of 24 men convicted over the beheadings of two young Scandinavian women on a hiking trip in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains last December.

The appeal at the court in Sale, near Rabat, comes six weeks after three Islamic State (IS) group supporters were sentenced to death over the murders which have shocked the North African country.

The other defendants, including the only non-Moroccan, Spanish-Swiss Kevin Zoller Guervos, were handed jail terms ranging from five years to life.

While those convicted are seeking lighter punishments, the family of 24-year-old Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen are urging the court to uphold the July 18 sentences, lawyers said.

Jespersen and her hiking companion 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland, nature lovers who were training to be guides, were on a Christmas holiday hiking trip when they were killed.

The first hearing is expected to be taken up by procedural issues.

Prosecutors and social media users had called for the death penalty for all three main suspects, despite Morocco having a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter who admitted to beheading one of the tourists, asked in court for forgiveness.

Third alleged assailant, 33-year-old Rachid Afatti, had admitted to filming the grisly murders on his mobile phone.

Khaled El Fataoui, lawyer for Jespersen’s family, aims to prove the state’s moral responsibility for the killings and to seek financial compensation.

The court, for its part, has ordered the three main accused to pay MAD2 million (USD200,000) in compensation to Ueland’s parents, although El Fataoui has said they did not have the means.