Three men arrested by Moroccan authorities on suspicion of the murder of two Scandinavian women may have links to Daesh, a prosecutor told reporters yesterday.
The brutal killing of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark and 28-year-old Maren Ueland of Norway sent shockwaves throughout the country this week, which has been relatively untouched by militant attacks.
The bodies of the two women were found on Monday in an isolated area of the Atlas Mountains close to the town of Imlil where they had been camping. Purported footage of the murder was later uploaded anonymously on social media. The video shows a woman screaming while a man cuts her neck with what appears to be a kitchen knife. Danish intelligence services at first said they had authenticated the video but later backtracked, saying it was still being "examined".
On Tuesday, a suspect was arrested by police in Marrakech with the prosecutor later announcing that he was believed to have ties to an armed group.
Three other suspects were also arrested on a bus in the city yesterday, identified by the Central Bureau for Judicial Investigations as Rachid Afatti, Ouaziad Younes and Ejjoud Abdessama. Three long machete-like knives, a shorter blade, a slingshot and several mobile phones were found in their possession, prompting suspicions that they had been planning to commit another attack in Agadir.
Investigators are in the process of "verifying the terrorist motive, which is supported by the evidence and the findings of inquiries", the central judicial investigations office said yesterday.
However, pictures of the men that have been released show at least one man that bears a striking resemblance to one of four individuals who had recently declared their allegiance to Daesh on social media, while posing under the group's flag.
A Moroccan television channel also broadcast an interview with the brother of one of the three men arrested on the bus, who told reporters that his sibling had been "brainwashed" by militants and had disappeared a week ago.
Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators have video footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims' tent and later leaving the area.
"Much indicates that the killing can be politically motivated and thus a terrorist act," Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said in a statement this week. "It fills me with anger and disgust, and I take the sharpest distance from these barbaric and bestial actions."
The Moroccan government spokesman, Mustapha El Khalfi, also condemned the murders, describing the killings as a "criminal and terrorist act".
International coverage of the murders has prompted concerns about the fate of Morocco's tourist sector, which accounts for 10% of national income, as the kingdom's relative insulation from terror attacks has been a major selling point.
The last attack in the country dates back to April 2011 when 17 people were killed in a restaurant bombing in Marrakech. Morocco has stepped up its effort to counter armed groups having created the Central Bureau for Judicial Investigations in 2015 to specifically foil terror attacks and break up armed groups.
Some 1,600 Moroccans, primarily from the north of the country, are believed to have joined militant groups in Iraq and Syria, although Daesh has failed to gain a foothold domestically.