Counter-terrorism authorities in Morocco said a dual Swiss-Spanish national has been arrested for alleged involvement in the killing of two Scandinavian tourists.
The man, who has not been named, was detained in Marrakesh for allegedly trying to recruit Moroccans to commit acts of terror, the Central Bureau for Judicial Investigations (BCIJ) said in a statement on Dec. 29.
The bodies of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, were found early on Dec. 17 near the village of Imlil in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains.
Investigators are treating the killings as an act of terror.
Recruitment For ‘Terrorist Plots’
Officials at BCIJ accuse the arrested Swiss-Spanish national of “involvement in recruiting Moroccan and sub-Saharan nationals to carry out terrorist plots in Morocco against foreign targets and security forces in order to take hold of their service weapons.”
The BBC cited the BCIJ as saying that the Swiss-Spanish national was suspected of “teaching some of those arrested… about communication tools involving new technology and of training them in marksmanship.”
The Swiss-Spanish national followed an “extremist ideology,” according to the BBC report.
Nineteen other men have been arrested in connection with the case, including four main suspects who had pledged allegiance to the ISIS terrorist group in a video made three days before the tourists’ bodies were found.
According to Morocco World News, in the video, one of the suspects says in Moroccan Arabic (Darija), “This is a revenge for our brothers in Hajin.” Hajin is a small Syrian town that is being freed from ISIS control by Syrian Democratic Forces.
There was another video in which the four initial suspects appeared to be pledging their allegiance to ISIS.
Police and domestic intelligence spokesman Boubker Sabik this week described the four men as “lone wolves,” adding “the crime was not coordinated with [ISIS].”
Moroccan investigators said nine of the suspects arrested on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 across the country were carrying arms and “suspicious materials” used in the making of explosives.
Slain In Their Tents
Both Jespersen and Ueland had lived in southern Norway where they attended university.
Helle Jespersen, one of the women’s mother, said she urged her daughter not to go to Morocco.
“We advised her to go down because it’s such a chaotic place, and you’ve heard of people who have been killed down there,” she was quoted by the Telegraph as saying.
Unnamed local sources told The Sun that three “homeless” men were seen camping near the two women.
“Three homeless men came from Marrakech and pitched a tent right next to the girls’ tent,” a hotelier was quoted as saying. “The men were not from around here.”
ISIS supporters have sent hundreds of horrific images and a beheading video directly to one of the victim’s grieving mothers, according to The Sun.
Disturbing images of the severed and partially severed heads of the murdered backpackers were reportedly also placed on the Facebook page of the heartbroken mother, according to the report.
‘We Must Not Give In’
Denmark’s prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said on Dec. 20 that the slayings can be considered “politically motivated and thus an act of terror.”
“There are still dark forces that want to fight our values” and, “we must not give in,” he said.
Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists but has battled with Islamic extremism for years. More than a thousand Moroccans are believed to have joined ISIS.
The victims have been commemorated in a series of vigils.
In Morocco’s capital Rabat, a minute’s silence was held on Dec. 22 with Danish and Norwegian diplomats present, while hundreds more people attended a vigil in the village, near where the women’s bodies were found.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.