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Suspects in murder of Scandinavian hikers begins in Morocco

Three main defendants accused of direct involvement in the murders, could face the death penalty.

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Morocco
In this file photo taken on December 20, 2018 a combination of pictures shows Rachid Afatti (L), Ouziad Younes (C), and Ejjoud Abdessamad (R), the three suspects in the grisly murder of two Scandinavian hikers whose bodies were found at a camp in Morocco's High Atlas mountains, in police custody following their arrest. Two dozen suspects are set to go on trial in Morocco for offences linked to the gruesome murder of two young Scandinavian hikers late last year. MOROCCAN POLICE / AFP

Two dozen suspects are set to go on trial in Morocco Thursday over the gruesome murder of two young Scandinavian hikers late last year that shocked the country.

Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland had their throats slit before they were beheaded in December at an isolated site in the High Atlas mountains.

Three main defendants accused of direct involvement in the murders, who allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group, could face the death penalty.

A total of 24 defendants are due to appear before a criminal court in Sale to answer charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder.

A Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam is among the suspects due to face justice in the city near Rabat, with his lawyer saying he will demand a postponement to “better prepare the defence”.

The families of the slain hikers and their lawyers will not attend the trial, according to information obtained by AFP.

Nature lovers, the two friends Jespersen and Ueland shared an apartment and went to Norway’s Bo University where they were studying to be guides.

They had travelled together to Morocco for their Christmas holidays.

Their lives were cut short in the foothills of Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the city of Marrakesh, a tourist magnet.

‘Enemies of Allah’

After the bodies were discovered, the Moroccan authorities were initially cautious, referring to a “criminal act” and wounds to the victims’ necks.

But that all changed when a video showing one of the victims being beheaded — filmed by one of the apparent killers on a mobile phone — circulated on social networks.

One of those in the footage refers to “enemies of Allah” and revenge for brothers in Syria.

The video did the rounds online in Morocco, Norway and Denmark.

Danish police last month launched prosecutions against 14 people suspected of sharing the footage.

A separate video in the initial aftermath of the murder showed the alleged killers pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Investigators 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.

IS has never claimed responsibility for the double-murder.

Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor referred to as the emir of the group by peers, is the suspected ringleader, according to investigators.

Police quickly arrested a first suspect in the suburbs of Marrakesh, and three others were arrested a few days later when they tried to leave the city by bus.

Aged from 25 to 33, all had struggled to get by in poor districts of Marrakesh.

They had recently embraced Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, according to friends, neighbours and some family members.

Petitions on the internet have called for anyone convicted of the double murder to face the death penalty.

But a de facto moratorium on carrying out executions has been in place since 1993.

A second Swiss citizen arrested after the double-murder was tried separately and jailed in mid-April for 10 years on charges including “forming a terrorist group”.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb

Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Libyan firefighters extinguish a fire at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on August 10, 2019. - "Two members of the UN mission, one them a foreigner, were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb" in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said. (Photo by - / AFP)

A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.

“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.

An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.

Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.

But bombings and kidnappings have continued.

A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.

A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.

Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”. 

On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. 

The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.

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Central Africa News

76 people survive shipwreck in DR Congo

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu.

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DR Congo boat accident claims 11 lives, dozens missing

76 people have survived a shipwreck on Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official said Saturday. However, more than a dozen people are feared to have drowned in the same incident.

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu. 

“We have already registered 76 survivors,” said Swedi Basila, the regional transport minister for South Kivu province, adding that up to 20 people were still missing.

“No body has been found until now,” he told AFP.

The vessel had been on its way to the island of Idjwi when it hit a large rock and capsized, Basila said.

River transport is one of the most used in DR Congo with its numerous waterways. Boat mishaps are common, typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo.

Tolls are often high because there are no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.

In April, at least 167 people were killed in two accidents, prompting President Felix Tshisekedi to make it mandatory for boat passengers to have life jackets. 

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EFCC charge Atiku Abubakar’s lawyer with corruption

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”

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Former Nigerian Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

Nigerian anti-corruption investigators have charged the lawyer of defeated presidential challenger Atiku Abubakar with money laundering, an official said Friday.

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”, a lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told AFP.

Election runner-up Abubakar has launched a legal challenge against the result of the fiercely contested poll in February that saw him lose out to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. 

Several people close to the defeated candidate have been targeted by the anti-graft agency since the vote, in what Abubakar’s supporters have described as a witch hunt. 

Osagie was first detained in February after his house was raided in Lagos but released from custody several weeks later. 

Boladale Adekoya, a spokesman for Abubakar’s campaign accused anti-corruption investigators of being “more dedicated to partisanship than rule of law”.

“They are clearly acting on behalf of a higher authority,” he told AFP. 

Abubakar’s son-in-law was also detained in the wake of the election as part of a money-laundering probe but has yet to face charges.

Buhari swept to power in 2015 on a pledge to fight the rampant graft in Nigeria — but critics accused the former military ruler of using the crackdown to go after his opponents during his first term. 

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