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Morocco nabs 5 more over killing of tourists

A man prays as Moroccans pay tribute to murdered Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Norwegian Maren Ueland, in Rabat, in front the Norwegian Embassy in Morocco, on December 22, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Security authorities in Morocco have arrested five more suspects linked to the stabbing death of two Scandinavian travelers last week in the country’s tourist hub of Atlas Mountains, an anti-terror official says.

The latest arrests were made in several cities in the Arab kingdom, bringing the number of suspects arrested in the double-murder case to 18, Chief of Morocco’s Central Bureau for Judicial Investigation Abdelhak Khiam said on Monday.

Danish Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and Norwegian Maren Ueland, 28, were murdered on December 17. They were found dead near the village of Imlil on route to Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak and a popular hiking and trekking destination.

“The two victims were stabbed, had their throats slit, and were then beheaded,” Khiam added.

A picture taken on December 20, 2018 shows Moroccan police officers driving a truck carrying the bodies of the two murdered Scandinavian hikers as they are being transported from a morgue in the capital, Marrakesh, to the airport. (By AFP)

Four main suspects were initially arrested by security agents. They had reportedly pledged allegiance to the Daesh terrorist group on video clips posted on social media.

Nine more people were nabbed across Morocco last Friday.

Authorities have also announced that agents had discovered electronic devices, unauthorized hunting rifles, knives, and other materials that could be used for bomb making during the raids to arrest the key suspects.

Local investigators announced on Monday that the dismantled “cell” had been made up of 18 members, including three with terror-related criminal records.

Khiam also identified “the emir of the group” as 25-year-old Abdessamad Ejjoud, who lived on the outskirts of Marrakesh, noting that he had “formed a kind of cell that discussed how to carry out a terrorist act inside the kingdom.”

The killers, according to Khiam, had “agreed under the influence of their emir to carry out a terrorist act... targeting the security services or foreign tourists.”

Morocco, which is heavily dependent on revenue from tourism, suffered a major terrorist attack in 2011, when a bomb blast at a cafe in Marrakesh’s famed Jemaa El Fna Square killed 17 people, mostly European tourists. Another deadly terror attack in 2003 targeted the North African country’s financial capital of Casablanca, killing 33 people.

Tourism accounts for 10 percent of Morocco’s national income.

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