An ISIS fanatic sentenced to death for the gruesome beheading of two Scandinavian hikers in Morocco has hanged himself in his prison cell.
The body of convicted terrorist Abderrahim Khayali, 36, was discovered Tuesday morning by guards at the prison in Oujda, a town in northeastern Morocco.
Khayali was one of four convicted ISIS militants jailed and sentenced to death in 2019 for the gruesome murders of Norwegian Maren Ueland, 28, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
The group’s suspected leader, Abdessamad Ejjoud and two others – Younes Ouaziyad and Rachid Afatti – had filmed themselves beheading the two hikers in their tent in December 2018 before posting the gruesome footage online in a case that shocked the world.
Khayali had left his fellow ISIS zealots before they killed the two women, who had been on a backpacking trip. He claimed at his trial that he left ‘out of regret’.
Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and Norwegian woman, Maren Ueland, 28, were found decapitated in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains in December 2018
Khayali (seen on the right in this video) appeared alongside the three killers in a video of all four pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in front of a black and white ISIS flag
Abdessamad Ejjoud (right), an underground imam, confessed at a trial in 2019 to beheading one of the women and Younes Ouaziyad (center) the other, while Rachid Afatti (left) filmed the killings on his mobile phone.
Khayali, who had tried to help the militants flee, had also appeared alongside the three killers in a video in which all four swore allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in front of a black and white ISIS flag.
He was originally sentenced to life in prison, but the sentence was changed to execution after he appealed.
Ejjoud, Ouaziyad and Afatti were also sentenced to death by firing squad for beheading the two walkers in 2019. The court also imposed jail terms on 19 people convicted as accomplices.
During their trial, the four ISIS fanatics had said: “May God forgive us,” while someone added, “There is no god but Allah” when the judge asked them for their final statements before handing down his sentence.
The conviction was Morocco’s first death penalty since 1993.
While the death penalty remains legal in Morocco, executions are rare. The last execution was in 1993 of Mustapha Tabet, a once powerful police commissioner of Casablanca, convicted of raping and abusing hundreds of victims.
No executions have taken place since then due to a moratorium, and the issue of the death penalty is a matter of political debate. This means that killers Ejjoud, Ouaziyad and Afatti remain behind bars.
During the trial of the ISIS militants, Helle Petersen, the mother of Danish victim Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, said in a letter to the court: “The most just thing would be to give these beasts the death penalty they deserve.”
A portrait of Louisa and Maren is seen at a makeshift memorial among flowers and candles, at the Town Hall Square in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 28, 2018
Between 500 and 1,000 people from Maren Ueland’s hometown marched in a torch-lit parade in Bryne, Norway on December 21, 2018. The march was held in honor of Norway’s Maren Ueland and Denmark’s Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, who were beheaded in Morocco
Lawyer Khalid Fataoui, on the verge of tears, also read passages in which Louisa described how her life has been ruined by the death of her daughter.
“I cry all the time when I think about her. My daughter and her (boyfriend) Maren had dreams and were taken in the most horrible way,” the letter read.
The three killers of the women were “bloodthirsty monsters,” the prosecution said at the trial, noting that an autopsy report had found 23 injuries on Jespersen’s decapitated body and seven on Ueland’s.
Ejjoud, an underground imam, had confessed in an earlier hearing that he beheaded one of the women and Younes Ouaziyad, a 27-year-old carpenter, the other, while Rachid Afatti, 33, had filmed the killings on his mobile phone.
Khayali, a plumber, had accompanied the three murderers but left the scene before the murders.
Coming from humble backgrounds and with a ‘very low’ level of education, the ISIS fanatics largely lived in the low-income areas of Marrakesh.
During the trial, Jespersen’s lawyers accused authorities of failing to check the activities of some suspects before the murders.
The brutal killings could have been avoided if authorities had heeded information about street vendor Ejjoud’s behavior, they said.
The alleged leader, who was convicted of trying to join IS in Syria, was released from prison early in 2015 and continued to meet with former prisoners and other individuals without authorities’ scrutiny, lawyer Khaled El Fataoui said. .
The lawyer claimed that the police had been informed of the activities of the group of men, but had not intervened.
Lawyer Houssine Raji added that the four main ISIS fanatics met at Quranic schools run by cleric Mohamed al-Maghraoui, which had been closed in 2010 by a court decision but had to be reopened by the justice minister in 2012.
Investigators said the “cell” was inspired by IS ideology, but Morocco’s counter-terror chief insisted the suspects had no contact with the jihadist group in conflict zones.
Following the 2019 trial, the court also sentenced a Swiss-Spanish convert to Islam, Kevin Zoller, to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors said he had ties to the men who orchestrated the femicides and had direct contact with IS members in Syria through the encrypted messaging service Telegram.
Another Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison, including charges of “intentionally aiding perpetrators of terrorist acts” and training terrorists, state news agency MAP said at the time.
Morocco has been largely spared from deadly jihadist acts since attacks in Casablanca that killed 33 people in 2003 and one in Marrakesh in 2011 that killed 17 people.