Beheading Deaths of Scandinavian Hikers Reportedly ISIS Inspired, Authorities Arrest 19 Suspects

Moroccan authorities have arrested 19 suspects in the Islamic State-inspired murders of two female Scandinavian hikers in the High Atlas Mountains.

A government spokesman said on Wednesday that 10 new suspects were arrested over a two-day period in the deaths Maren Ueland, a 28-year-old from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, a 24-year-old from Denmark. The two backpackers were discovered dead in their camping tent on December 17.

Ueland and Jespersen, who were on a month-long trip when they were killed, were stabbed and slashed across the neck, authorities said. The two women were camping in a remote tourist destination close to the village of Imlil, Morocco.

The alleged ringleader of the brutal slayings, 25-year-old Abdesamad Ejjoud, was arrested on Tuesday, authorities said. Abdelhak Khiam, the head of Morocco's central office for judicial investigation said Ejjoud had "formed a kind of cell that discussed how to carry our a terrorist act inside the kingdom… targeting the security services or foreign tourists."

Khiam said that three of the 19 people arrested had terror-related criminal records, Fox News reported.

Ejjoud, a street vendor living on the outskirts of Marrakech, was believed to have committed the murders along with Abderrahim Khayali, 33, Younes Ouaziyad, 27, and Rachid Afatti, 33. The four men allegedly shot a video a week before the murder pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The four suspects had not contacted ISIS leaders, officials said.

"The crime was not coordinated with Islamic State," Boubker Sabik, a spokesman for the Moroccan security and domestic intelligence services, said. "Lone wolves do not need permission from their leader."

Two days before the grisly killings, the group traveled to the Imlil region and "targeted the two tourists in a deserted area," Khiam said, according to "The two victims were stabbed, had their throats slit and were then beheaded," he added.

A graphic video allegedly depicting Jespersen's death was filmed by one of the suspects and shared on social media. The videos then went viral when they were shared on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and 4Chan.

Relatives of the two victims, including Jespersen's mother, have had their Facebook profiles targeted with photographs of their severed heads, reported.

Morocco, which is a popular tourist destination, has largely been spared any major terrorist attacks. A bomb attack in 2011 targeted Marrakech's Jamaa El Fnaa Square and killed 17 people.

Morocco Murders
A picture taken on December 20, shows Moroccan police officers waiting outside a morgue in the central city of Marrakesh, ahead of the transportation of the bodies of the two murdered Scandinavian hikers to the airport. The bodies of Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Maren Ueland from Norway were found on December 17, after the two friends had pitched their tent at an isolated mountain site two hours' walk from the tourist village of Imlil. AFP/Getty Images