Slain Danish student's mother urges death sentences in Morocco trial

Ismail Bellaouali
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Prosecutors have called for the death penalty and jail terms of between 15 years and life for the defendants on trial for the killing of two Scandinavian women before an anti-terror court in Sale, near Rabat

Prosecutors have called for the death penalty and jail terms of between 15 years and life for the defendants on trial for the killing of two Scandinavian women before an anti-terror court in Sale, near Rabat (AFP Photo/-)

Salé (Morocco) (AFP) - The mother of a Danish student beheaded along with another Scandinavian woman while hiking in Morocco's High Atlas mountains called Thursday for the suspected jihadist killers to face the death penalty as their trial neared its end.

"The most just thing would be to give these beasts the death penalty they deserve, I ask that of you," said Helle Petersen in a letter read by her lawyer in an anti-terrorist court in Sale, near the capital Rabat.

"My life was destroyed the moment that two policemen came to my door on December 17 to announce my daughter's death," the mother of 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen wrote in the letter, read out in total silence and with the defendants' faces impassive.

The trial was adjourned until a final hearing on July 18 when the 24 defendants in the case that has shocked the North African country would make final statements.

Prosecutors have already called for the death penalty for the three main suspects behind the "bloodthirsty" murder of the young Scandinavians in December.

The maximum sentence was sought for 25-year-old suspected ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud and two radicalised Moroccans, although the country has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.

Petitions on social media have likewise called for their execution.

The three admitted to killing Jespersen and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland, whose family has declined to take part in the trial.

- IS supporters -

The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2.

The life sentence has been sought for Abderrahim Khayali, a 33-year-old plumber, who had accompanied the three alleged assailants but left the scene before the murders.

The prosecution called for 20 years in jail for Kevin Zoller Guervos, a Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam.

The only non-Moroccan in the group, Guervos is accused of having taught the main suspects how to use an encrypted messaging service and to use weapons.

His lawyer, Saad Sahli, said Guervos had cut all ties with the other suspects "once he knew they had extremist ideas" more than 18 months ago.

"Kevin is a child who fell into the hands of a killer," he said.

All but three of those on trial had said they were supporters of the Islamic State (IS) group, according to the prosecution, although IS itself has never claimed responsibility for the murders.

The three killers of the women were "bloodthirsty monsters", the prosecution said, pointing out that an autopsy report had found 23 injuries on Jespersen's decapitated body and seven on that of Ueland.

Ejjoud, an underground imam, had confessed at a previous hearing to beheading one of the women and Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, the other, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had videoed the murders on his mobile phone.

The defence team called for "mitigating circumstances on account of their precarious social conditions and psychological disequilibrium".

Coming from modest backgrounds, with a "very low" level of education, the defendants lived for the most part in low-income areas of Marrakesh.

- 'No such thing as zero risk' -

Jespersen's lawyers have accused authorities of having failed to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the two women had their throats slit while camped in an isolated mountain area.

The brutal killings could have been avoided had authorities heeded information on the behaviour of street vendor Ejjoud, they said.

But in response to the Danish family's demand for compensation from Morocco of around $1 million, a judicial agent representing the state denied the charges in court.

"There's no such thing as zero risk," he said, pointing to terror attacks around the world. "All of Morocco has been mortified by this drama" not just the victims' families, he said.

The alleged ringleader, who had been convicted for trying to join IS in Syria, was released early from prison in 2015 and went on to meet former inmates and other individuals without checks by authorities, attorney Khaled El Fataoui said.

Investigators have said the "cell" was inspired by IS ideology, but Morocco's anti-terror chief insisted the accused had no contact with the jihadist group in conflict zones.