The trial of 24 men accused of being involved in the brutal murders of two Scandinavian hikers late last year in Morocco is now underway.
The proceedings surrounding the gruesome deaths of Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, of Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway opened up Tuesday at an anti-terrorism court near the African nation’s capital of Rabat and immediately adjourned until May 16 to give defense attorneys more time to strategize, Reuters reports.
Jespersen and Ueland were camping in the Atlas Mountains in December last year when they were murdered in and around a tent. One was decapitated, while the other had a serious throat wound. A video purportedly showing the beheading of one of the women has circulated on social media and Denmark, separately, has lodged charges against 14 people suspected of sharing it.
All but one of the 24 suspects charged with offenses related to the killings are from Morocco, according to Reuters. The four considered to be the main suspects – in a video released just prior to the attacks – pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, but further investigation from Moroccan officials concluded that they carried out the murders as “lone wolves,” the news agency added.
Those suspects could face the death penalty, according to the BBC, while the other suspects were been rounded up on charges such as forming a terrorist cell and promoting terrorist activities.
The families of the hikers and their legal team are not expected to attend the trial, according to AFP.
Lars Loekke Rasmussen, Denmark’s prime minister, described the killing in December as "politically motivated and thus an act of terror," while also stating it was a "beastly crime".
Prior to leaving on the trip, Jespersen wrote on her Facebook page: "Dear friends, I'm going to Morocco in December. Any of you guys who's around by then or any mountain friends who knows something about Mount Toubkal?"
Moroccan media outlets at the time also reported that investigators retrieved surveillance footage showing three of the accused putting up a tent near where Jespersen and Ueland were camping – and then leaving the area after they were killed.
"What should have been a holiday trip turned into a nightmare," Rasmussen said.
Fox News’ Robert Gearty, Madeline Fish and Chris Irvine contributed to this report.