Danish officials have today said ISIS are suspected of killing two Scandinavian women in Morocco and have confirmed one of them was beheaded on video.
Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, were found dead near the village of Imlil in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains on Monday.
At least one of the suspected killers is an ‘extremist’, Moroccan authorities have confirmed, prompting fears that the gruesome double murder was an act of terror.
This morning, the PET Danish intelligence service said in a statement that it had authenticated an online video showing the murder of one of the women and that the killings can be connected to ISIS.
The friends were spotted with three men in Marrakech before heading to the Atlas mountains to hike.
A Moroccan police source said today that three fugitive suspects had been arrested in Marrakesh after an intensive manhunt and after local media had released images of three suspects.
Police launched an intensive manhunt after Maren Ueland and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen were found dead. Local media released images of three suspects
The four suspects are all thought to be from the Marrakesh area. Police have not ruled out a terror link to the murders
Maren Ueland (right), 28, from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen (left), 24, from Denmark, were found dead near the village of Imlil in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains on Monday
Another man arrested on Monday hours after the women were found dead is suspected of belonging to an Islamic extremist group.
All have been identified by their initials and two of them were pictured wearing skullcaps and heavy beards.
‘RA’, from the small village of Douar el Caïd, outside Marrakesh, was born in 1985 and works as a salesman, officials said.
The second suspect, ‘AE’, a carpenter born in 1991, lives in the Azzouzia district of Marrakesh.
The third, ‘OA’, born in 1993, lives in the Derb Zeroual neighbourhood of Marrakesh. No employment details were given.
Motivation for the attack is unclear, officials said, but terrorism remains a strong line of inquiry.
This morning, Denmark’s prime minister said the killings can be considered ‘politically motivated and thus an act of terror’. Lars Loekke Rasmussen said that ‘there are still dark forces that want to fight our values’ and ‘we must not give in.’
Witnesses said that three men from Marrakech were seen camping close to the women, and local media has reported that sexual assault may have been the motive for the crime.
On Wednesday, police arrested a man from Marrakech whose identity card was found at the murder scene.
An initial suspect provided the names of the two alleged accomplices under interrogation.
The three men were filmed fleeing the scene between 2am and 3am on Monday, on a camera belonging to another camper.
Police have not released the names and ages of the men and are not thought to be seeking any other suspects in connection with the crime.
Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, pictured, and Ms Ueland, 28, were studying ‘outdoor activities and cultural guidance’ at a college in Norway
Ms Vesterager Jespersen, left, and Ms Ueland, right were both named in Scandinavian media on Monday as the two women found murdered in Morocco
The video shows Ms Vesterager Jespersen hiking through snowy mountains as she speaks about her ambitions for the future
Officers have announced their intention to take the suspects to the murder scene to ask them how they committed the murder, but have not yet scheduled a time for it.
Earlier, the man who discovered the bodies claimed one of the victims had been decapitated.
The local resident, who asked not to be named for his own safety, said: ‘I saw the two bodies before the police arrived. One was outside the tent and the other inside. The one outside had been beheaded.’
He declined to give any further details. Police sources have neither confirmed nor denied the claims.
It comes as an employee of the Marrakesh hotel where two women stayed before their murder told MailOnline that they were with three other female friends who left them to go surfing just days before they were killed.
Maren and Louisa spent one night at the Faouzi Hotel, a backpackers’ hotel yards from Marrakesh’s main square in the city’s tourist district.
‘They checked in on the 10th and spent only one night here,’ the hotel employee, who asked not to be named, said.
‘There were five girls together in the beginning. All tourists. The next morning, three of them went off surfing. The other two, Maren and Louisa, went into town at noon, leaving their luggage here.
Forensic markers can be seen on the ground as police in Morocco investigate the killing of the two young women at the site of their tent
Forensics officers investigate a tent where the two Scandinavian women were discovered with their throats cut on Monday in the foothills of Mount Toubkal; a source said one was discovered outside the tent and another was inside
‘They came back at five in the afternoon to collect their luggage. They went and changed into outdoors clothes for the mountains.
‘They were laughing between themselves. They were in a normal, happy mood. They were young, beautiful, cool and funny. They came here to have a good time.
‘While they were packing, three other guys were waiting for them outside the hotel. They were Moroccans.
‘They were young and they seemed clean-cut. They didn’t seem like they were criminals. They were young, not more than 27 or 28 years old, and they seemed like nice guys, not at all suspicious.
‘I think they met with the girls in the square and started speaking in English, and that’s how they met. They were outside the hotel and didn’t come in.
‘Once they had changed, the girls packed their backpacks and left with the guys.
‘They left the hotel and we didn’t hear about them again until the 17th, when we heard that they had been murdered.’
Locals near the murder scene said the three men pitching the tent were not known in the area.
A hotelier said: ‘Three homeless men came from Marrakesh and pitched a tent right next to the girls’ tent. The men were not from round here.’
In a video Ms Vesterager Jespersen says: ‘I’m trying to follow my dream to go into the Arctic’
Ms Jespersen (left and right) posted pictures of her hiking, kayaking and skiing on her social media accounts
The owner of a restaurant in Imril, the village closest to the location of the crime, said that he had served the two women just days before they were killed.
‘They were nice and in a good mood,’ he said. ‘They said they wanted to climb Toubkal mountain because it is 4,167metres tall, the highest in North Africa.
‘I insisted that they take a local guide with them, but they didn’t want to. They didn’t think they needed it.’
The hotel employee added: ‘Marrakesh is a tourist city and as people from Marrakesh, we don’t accept this kind of thing. We can’t judge them or speculate about who killed them.
‘We must wait for the investigators to do their job. The police came and took our CCTV footage. They didn’t seem to have any leads.
‘Yesterday we were shocked when we heard about this. We didn’t believe it had happened.
‘They left their country to have a good time in another country and this happened. We don’t understand why someone did this. Nothing has ever happened like this before.’
A local guide who works in the area said the body of one woman was found inside the tent they shared and the other just outside it.
As well as the video showing her trekking through snow covered hills she is also seen kayaking in fast running waters and rowing across a lake
In the video Ms Vesterager Jespersen can be seen laughing as she takes a sip from a coconut drink in an exotic country
Heartbreaking: Maren Ueland’s mother, Irene, paid tribute to her daughter by sharing a picture on Facebook of her daughter and a huge dog
A picture taken on Thursday shows the tourist village of Imlil in the High Atlas range, which is used as a pit stop for trekkers
Both women had both been studying ‘outdoor activities and cultural guidance’ at a Norwegian college in the village of Bo
A police vehicle is seen on a road near the tourist village of Imlil in the High Atlas range on Thursday, as a source says that three were arrested
Both women’s bodies were found in an isolated mountainous area six miles (ten kilometres) from the tourist village of Imlil.
A tour guide, Mohammed Jalal, who was with the women before the attack said: ‘I warned them that it could be slippery in the mountains, but they seemed to have the right equipment and knew how to wear them,’ the Stavanger Aftenblad reported.
Authorities in Denmark and Norway have warned their citizens since the killings from hiking alone without local guides in Morocco.
Danish police said on Wednesday they had sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.
After paying tribute to her daughter, Mrs Ueland told Norwegian broadcaster NRK: ‘Her priority was safety. The girls had taken all precautionary measures before embarking on this trip.’
She said they had been studying together at the University of South-Eastern Norway and had gone backpacking for a month-long Christmas holiday on December 9.
Helle Jesperse told BT the family was ‘completely broken’, after being told the news of her daughter’s death just before Christmas.
A police vehicle is seen on a inside the tourist village of Imlil in the High Atlas range on Thursday
A helicopter at the crime scene where the bodies of Ms Jespersen and Ms Ueland were discovered in Imlil in the High Atlas range in Morocco
A police truck on the outskirts of Imlil on Thursday as investigators continue to gather evidence into the killings
Describing the moment the police arrived at her door she said: ‘I saw that there were two police officers there, I knew what had happened. I broke down.’
Ms Jespersen has been described as ‘adventurous’ and ‘always happy and positive’ by her family, who had reportedly tried to get her to come home for the festive period.
On November 21, Ms Jespersen wrote of her trip on Facebook: ‘Dear friends, im going to Morocco in december. Any of you guys whos around by then or any mountain friends who knows something about Mount Toubkal? [sic]’
She had also posted pictures from previous trips in which he is hiking in mountains as well as skiing and kayaking.
Imlil is as a starting point for trekking and climbing tours of Mount Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa.
A fellow traveller who Ms Ueland met in Iceland said she had planned to travel across Greenland and loved ‘being in the wild’.
Marius Fuglestad, 28, told the Norwegian VG newspaper: ‘Five months ago we went together across Iceland. Now she’s gone. We talked about the fact that life can be short and you must live it while you can.
The crime scene where the bodies of the two women were found on Monday and recovered from the area Monday
‘She was a positive girl who spread good energy and always was gentle. She enjoyed being in the wild and wanted to see if a trip was something for her.’
Hossein, a local guide in the area, said: ‘It’s very bad for the region. There will undoubtedly be cancellations.’
Tourism is a cornerstone of Morocco’s economy and the kingdom’s second-largest employer, after agriculture.
Another guide, identified only as Mustapha, told VG: ‘All of Imlil is in shock. This is a tragedy for the whole town. Nothing like this has happened [here] before.’
The sector accounts for ten per cent of national income and is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency.
A Norwegian policeman from the embassy in Rabat is travelling to Marrakesh to act as a liaison between the authorities.
Moroccan officials said a suspect had been arrested in relation to the murder of Ms Jespersen (above) and her friend who were both found dead in the village of Imlil
People gathered at the scene where Louisa Jespersen and Maren Ueland were found on Monday