Gibraltar Chronicle Logo
UK/Spain News

Three more held over Scandinavian tourist murders in Morocco

A general view of Imlil, a village nearby popular trekking area in the Atlas mountains where Maren Ueland from Norway and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen from Denmark were found killed, Imlill, Maroccoo December 20, 2018. NTB Scanpix/Terje Bendiksby via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY.

Three more suspects have been arrested over the killings of two Scandinavian tourists in Morocco's Atlas Mountains.

The development came as the Danish intelligence agency said the killings "may be related" to Islamic State.

The three new suspects were arrested in Marrakech as they tried to flee in a bus, according to national security spokesman Boubker Sabik.

He said authorities are investigating whether the three have terrorist affiliations, adding that no other suspects are being sought.

Another suspect was arrested on Tuesday, and a Moroccan prosecutor said he had affiliations to an extremist group, without naming it.

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

The women's bodies were found on Monday in the Atlas Mountains, an area prized by hikers.

The killings can be considered "politically motivated and thus an act of terror", Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said.

He said "there are still dark forces that want to fight our values" and "we must not give in".

Mr Loekke Rasmussen confirmed the victims' identities as Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, of Denmark, and Maren Ueland, from Norway.

"What should have been a holiday trip turned into a nightmare," he told reporters in Denmark.

In neighbouring Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said terrorism "is not the only lead that is being investigated in Morocco" but said the case still "emphasises the importance of combating violent extremism".

"We trust that Moroccan authorities are doing their utmost to arrest those responsible for the murders," she told a scheduled news conference.

In a statement, Denmark's domestic security agency said the preliminary investigation "indicate, according to Moroccan authorities, that the killings may be related to the terrorist organisation the Islamic State group".

The bodies were found in a remote mountainous region, 10 kilometres (six miles) from the village of Imlil - often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak.

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 killings.

The website of state broadcaster 2M published photos that they said were of the three suspects taken on a bus.

The Norwegian victim's mother, Irene Ueland, told broadcaster NRK that her daughter had taken safety precautions before making the trip.

Authorities in Denmark and Norway on Wednesday warned their citizens against hiking without local guides in Morocco after the killings.

Danish police officials said they have sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.

Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists but has battled with Islamic extremism for years, and more than a thousand Moroccans are believed to have joined IS.

An anti-terrorism rally is planned for Morocco's capital on Saturday.

MAIN PHOTO: A general view of Imlil, a village nearby popular trekking area in the Atlas mountains where Maren Ueland from Norway and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen from Denmark were found killed. NTB Scanpix/Terje Bendiksby via REUTERS