Fifteen men charged over beheadings of female hikers in Morocco
Fifteen people have been charged in connection with the murders of two Scandinavian university students in Morocco.
Prosecutors said they had filed preliminary terrorism charges against the men on Sunday.
These include forming a gang to prepare and commit terrorist acts and premeditated murder.
Three of the suspects also face charges for allegedly urging the others to commit acts of terrorism.
The charges come after the bodies of 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland and 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen from Denmark were found by other tourists in an isolated area of Morocco’s High Atlas mountains on 17 December.
Authorities say they had both been beheaded.
Twenty people have been arrested in the case so far, the latest being a Swiss man who lives in Morocco, who is accused of training the murderers.
The 15 suspects who have been charged have been referred to an investigating judge who handles terrorism cases.
More of the suspects are expected to be charged this week.
At least four of the suspects belonged to a group inspired by Islamic State but none of them had contact with its members in Syria or Iraq, Morocco’s counter-terrorism chief Abdelhak Khiam said during the weekend.
Investigators suspect that the Moroccan group’s leader was Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor who was seen in a video filmed a week before the murders in which the four main suspects pledge allegiance to an IS leader.
Both of the victims lived in southern Norway, where they had attended university.
Their bodies were returned to their homelands before Christmas.
Danish and Norwegian leaders have both condemned the killings and Moroccan prime minister Saad Eddine El Othmani has described them as a “stab in the back of Morocco and Moroccans”.
Tourism accounts for 10% of Morocco’s national income and the country has generally been safe from jihadist attacks since a 2011 bombing in Marrakech killed 17 people, most of them European tourists.