Expert says it's hard to protect the popular tourist area of Morocco where 2 Scandinavian women were recently murdered - and it's become easier for ISIS to operate there
REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo, Facebook/Maren Ueland, YouTube/ Louisa Jespersen
- Moroccan officials said the four men suspected of killing Louisa Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, pledged their allegiance to ISIS before the killings.
- Abdellah Rami, a Moroccan expert on Islamist movements, told The New York Times, it is "easier for organizations like ISIS to start operating" in popular tourist areas.
- ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the backpackers' deaths through its usual channels.
After two Scandinavian women were murdered while hiking in Morocco, an expert on Islamist movements has said it's hard to protect tourist-heavy regions from ISIS.
The four men suspected of killing Louisa Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, in Morocco's High Atlas mountains pledged their allegiance to ISIS earlier in a recorded video, the country's general prosecutor said on Thursday.
Abdellah Rami, a Moroccan expert on Islamist movements, told The New York Times that if the video is verified, and killers' motives are linked to terror, the attack "targets very sensitive matters like tourism, which is an essential component of the Moroccan economy."
He added: "It is hard for the authorities to protect these areas and easier for organizations like ISIS to start operating in these places."
The video, which was shared on Twitter, shows the men sitting in front of an ISIS flag, with one telling ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi that the "number of your soldiers in Morocco is known only to Allah and that they are marching forth to support Allah's religion and defend Muslim families."
BBC Monitoring reported on Thursday that one man in the video, speaking Arabic, said: "This is in revenge for our brothers in Hajin." Hajin is a town in Syria which ISIS recently lost control of.
ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the backpackers' deaths through its usual channels.
"The ideological identity is clear, but the organization they're affiliated to isn't," Rami told The Times about the suspects. "So the question is, did they commit this independently or was it a sleeper cell?"
Nicholas Heras, a Middle East security fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank, told INSIDER that Morocco has been aggressively trying to identify and arrest ISIS members and ISIS sympathizers, but there is "still a significant reservoir for support for ISIS in Morocco."
"No counter intelligence policy can completely remove the threat of ISIS-inspired attacks by fans of the organization, especially if the potential attackers were radicalized through ISIS propaganda that is easily accessed online," he said.
"Westerners, especially European tourists, are an easy target for jihadists looking to strike a blow against the West in the name of Islam," he said.
The bodies of Jespersen and Ueland were discovered 6 miles outside the village of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains on December 18.
The women's bodies had "evidence of violence to their necks," the Moroccan Interior Ministry said in a statement.
In general Morocco is considered a safe country to explore and is under a Level 1 travel advisory - which suggests exercising "normal precautions" - by the US Department of State.
According to a report from the Counter Extremism Project, Moroccan security forces have disrupted a number of ISIS-linked cells since as early as 2014.
The country has faced fewer terror attacks in the last 15 years than its North African neighbors Algeria, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Tunisia, the Counter Extremism Project said.
INSIDER's Bill Bostock contributed to this report