A man suspected of "training" the men who allegedly beheaded two Scandinavian tourists has been arrested.
The Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations said in a statement the man was detained on Saturday in Marrakech, Morocco. Moroccan counterterrorism forces allege he taught social media skills and archery to some suspects in the deaths, Morocco's first terrorist attack in years.
The statement says he is also suspected of involvement in recruiting Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans for "terrorist schemes" targeted at "foreign interests and security forces." It did not identify him or provide details.
Twenty people have been arrested so far in the investigation of the slayings of the women hikers in the Atlas Mountains.
Boubker Sabik, a spokesman for Morocco's national security agency, said on December 27 that 10 suspects were arrested over two days for their links with the alleged killers of 24-year-old Louisa Vesterager Jespersen from Denmark, and 28-year-old Maren Ueland from Norway.
Their bodies were found December 17 in their camping tent in a remote area in the Atlas Mountains. Authorities believe the hikers were killed by men affiliated with the Islamic State group.
The pair were stabbed multiple times before the killers slit their throats and decapitated them in the crime which shook the world.
A graphic video allegedly showing Ms Jespersen's murder was filmed by one of the assailants and uploaded to social media, where it went viral after thousands of people shared it on Facebook, Twitter, 4Chan and Reddit.
During the horrific video sent to the girls' parents, the perpetrators cry out: "It's Allah's will" and are heard saying: "This is revenge for our brothers in Hajine in Syria. These are your heads, enemy of God."
Sabik told national television 2M on Sunday that the suspects targeted the two girls randomly and that ISIS didn't coordinate the killings.
In a press conference in Rabat this week, Sabik labelled the suspects "lone wolves", adding that "the crime was not co-ordinated with Islamic State".
Authorities allege the four main suspects — all of whom were arrested within three days of the murders — recruited up to 15 others into a hastily formed terrorist group.
"The emir of the group" was Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor living on the outskirts of Marrakech, according to the head of Morocco's central office for judicial investigation, Abdelhak Khiam.
Ejjoud had "formed a kind of cell that discussed how to carry out a terrorist act inside the kingdom," he told AFP.
Mr Khiam said the group "agreed under the influence of their emir to carry out a terrorist act … targeting the security services or foreign tourists".
THEIR FINAL DAYS
Rachid Imerhade, a mountain guide who had met the two friends a few days before their deaths, described the pair as "happy" in their final days.
He said: "They were smiling, chatty and sociable. They talked a lot with the other people around."
Jespersen's mother, Helle Petersen, told the Danish newspaper B.T. that her daughter was "always happy and positive. Everyone loved her and she saw the best in everyone".
She added that she had warned her daughter about travelling to Morocco "because of the chaotic situation", reported the Straits Times.
Information indicates that the women were killed in revenge because a town in Syria that had been held by ISIS was taken over by Kurdish forces.
Morocco is said to be beefing up its security efforts to combat ISIS fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.
Authorities said 242 of the 1,669 Moroccans who joined the terror group had been arrested.
Some had used false passports and tried to hide among refugees heading for Europe as ISIS began to lose key battles in the Middle East.
Morocco, which relies heavily on tourism income, suffered a jihadist attack in 2011, when a bomb blast at a cafe in Marrakesh's famed Jamaa El Fna Square killed 17 people, mostly European tourists.
An attack in the North African state's financial capital Casablanca killed 33 people in 2003.
- AP, news.com.au