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Morocco court sentences 3 to death, another to life, for killing 2 tourists

A file combination photo showing Rachid Afatti (L), Ouziad Younes (C), and Ejjoud Abdessamad (R), the three suspects in the murder of two Scandinavian hikers at a camp in Morocco's Atlas Mountains in December 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A Moroccan court has sentenced three men to death and another to life-imprisonment upon convicting them of terrorism for their role in last December’s killing of two female Scandinavian hikers in the country’s Atlas Mountains.

The verdict was delivered after several hours of deliberation on Thursday, 19 other accomplices were also given jail terms ranging from five to 30 years.

All of the 23 defendants – who have reportedly claimed allegiance to the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group -- addressed the court prior to the verdicts, with most of them pleading for leniency.

None of them, however, showed any reaction while the sentences were read out, though their family members rushed out of the crowded courtroom weeping. Those sentenced were given only 10 days to appeal the ruling.

The victims, identified as 28-year-old Maren Ueland of Norway and 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen of Denmark, were fatally stabbed 23rd December 2018. The slayings were reportedly recorded on video and posted online.

The key defendants who received the death sentence were identified as carpenters, Jounes Ouzayed and Rashid Afatti, as well as street merchant, Abdessamad Al Joud. The other key perpetrator, who had, fled the crime scene, is Khaiali Abderahman, who received a life sentence.

State prosecutors for the Western-backed kingdom of Morocco, asked the court to sentence the top three suspects to death in their closing arguments back in June, describing them as "human beasts."

Lawyers wait for the arrival of suspects accused of murdering two Scandinavian women, during the final court session of the 11-week trial in Sale, near the capital Rabat, on July 18, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

This is while the lawyer for the Danish victim’s family said he was "100% satisfied" with the verdicts, according to local press reports. Khalid El-Fataoui further noted that Louisa Vesterager's mother had requested, in a letter earlier this month, that the court sentence the killers to death.

"We obtained what she asked for," El-Fataoui boasted.

The Moroccan court further ordered the top four defendants to pay the equivalent of $209,000 in damages to the family of the Norwegian victim, but rejected a demand from the Danish victim's family for the state of Morocco to pay damages. It is not, however, clear how those condemned to death by execution and life in prison, are expected to pay such heavy fines.

Moreover, the court also sentenced a Swiss-Spanish national– identified as Kevin Zoller – to 20 years, with prosecutors accusing him of having had links with the alleged killers, as well as being in contact with ISIL militants in Syria via the encrypted messaging service Telegram. However, he had pleaded innocent.

Another Swiss man was also sentenced to 10 years in jail back in April, after being convicted on charges that included "deliberately helping perpetrators of terrorist acts" and training terrorists, according to Morocco’s state-run news agency MAP.

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