Moroccan authorities have made nine new arrests over the brutal murder of two Scandinavian hikers by suspected Muslim militants in the kingdom’s High Atlas Mountains, police said on Friday.
The announcement came just hours after police said that the bodies of Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland were put on a plane in Casablanca bound for Copenhagen.
The new suspects were detained across the country for their “alleged links with the perpetrators of the terrorist act,” the Moroccan Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations said.
Police also seized “electronic equipment, a shotgun, knives ... a military uniform and materials that could be used to manufacture explosives,” it added.
Moroccan authorities on Thursday said that four other suspects arrested following the murder of the two tourists had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
The bodies of the two women were found on Monday after they had pitched their tent at an isolated mountain site two hours’ walk from the tourist village of Imlil.
One of them was beheaded, a source close to the investigation said.
Imlil is a starting point for trekking and climbing tours of Mount Toubkal, which at 4,167m is the highest summit in North Africa.
Hours after the grisly discovery, authorities announced the arrest of a first suspect.
They later said that he belonged to an “extremist” group.
The three other suspects were arrested on Thursday.
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said it “shares” the assessment by the Moroccan authorities that the murders were an “act of terrorism.”
Moroccan investigators are probing a link to Muslim militancy after a video emerged showing the suspects “pledging allegiance” to the IS, the Rabat prosecutor has said.
Authorities were working to determine the authenticity of a video posted on social media networks allegedly showing the murder of one of the tourists, the prosecutor said.
“At this point, there is no tangible evidence that the video is not authentic,” the Norwegian National Criminal Investigation Service said on Friday.
“Technical analyses have not been completed,” but nothing indicates that the footage is “not genuine,” PET said.
“The Danish National Police and PET are working closely with the Moroccan authorities,” it said.
The first four suspects detained were all arrested in Marrakesh, an hour away from the scene of the murder.
Younes Ouaziad, 27, lived with his parents in the working-class al-Azzouzia neighborhood.
His family and neighbors on Friday said they were “in shock.”
“He was a boy without any history, private. There was nothing to suggest he could do something like that,” said Abdelaati, 35, a vegetable seller in the neighborhood.
The murders have prompted condemnation from authorities in Denmark and Norway.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen denounced what he called a “beastly crime.”
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg condemned what she called a “brutal and meaningless attack on innocents.”
Moroccan government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi described the killings as a “terrorist act.”
It was a “stab in the back of Morocco and Moroccans,” Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani said.
Tourism is a cornerstone of Morocco’s economy, accounting for 10 percent of national income.
The country has been spared Muslim militant attacks since 2011, when a bomb attack on a cafe in Marrakesh’s famed Djemaa el-Fnaa Square killed 17 people, most of them European tourists.
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