Trial nears end for 24 suspects in killing of Scandinavian hikers

Petitioners on social media called for the execution of the radicalized killers. (File/AFP)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Trial nears end for 24 suspects in killing of Scandinavian hikers

  • Death penalty is on de facto freeze in Morocco since 1993
  • All 24 defendants, except for three of them, said they support Daesh

SALÉ, Morocco: The trial of the suspected extremist killers of two Scandinavian women hikers beheaded in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains last December neared its close Thursday as lawyers prepared to deliver their final arguments.
Prosecutors have called for the death penalty for the three main extremist suspects behind the “bloodthirsty” murder of the young Scandinavians.
The maximum sentence was sought for 25-year-old suspected ringleader Abdessamad Ejjoud and two radicalized Moroccans, although the country has had a de facto freeze on executions since 1993.
Petitions on social media have called for their execution.
The three admitted to killing Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland.
The prosecution has called for jail terms of between 15 years and life for the 21 other defendants on trial since May 2 before an anti-terror court in Sale, near Rabat.
The life sentence has been sought for Abderrahim Khayali, a 33-year-old plumber, who had accompanied the three assailants but left the scene before the murders.
The prosecution called for 20 years in jail for Kevin Zoller Guervos, a Spanish-Swiss.
All but three of those on trial had said they were supporters of Daesh, according to the prosecution, although Daesh itself has never claimed responsibility for the murders.
The three killers of the girls 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 had confessed to beheading one of the girls and Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, the other, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had videoed the murders on his mobile.
The defense team said it would call for the judge to take into account extenuating circumstance.
“We will appeal for mitigating circumstances on account of their precarious social conditions and psychological disequilibrium,” Hafida Mekessaou told AFP.
Khalid Elfataoui, representing Jespersen’s family, said she would read out a “devastating” letter received from the Danish woman’s family and demand compensation of over $1 million on their behalf.
The Norwegian woman’s family has declined to take part in the trial.
Jespersen’s lawyers have accused authorities of having failed to monitor the activities of some of the suspects before the two women camped in an isolated mountain area had their throats slit.
The brutal killings could have been spared had authorities heeded information on the behavior of street vendor Ejjoud, they said.
The alleged ringleader who had been convicted for trying to join Daesh 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.
He alleged police had been informed of the activities of the group of men from an underprivileged background but failed to act.
Lawyer Houssine Raji added the suspects met in Qur'anic schools run by cleric Mohamed Al-Maghraoui, which had been shut in 2010 under a court decision but ordered reopened in 2012 by the justice minister.
Investigators have said the “cell” was inspired by Daesh ideology, but Morocco’s anti-terror chief insisted the accused had no contact with the extremist group in conflict zones.


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019
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Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.