Swiss suspect in murder of Scandinavian hikers ‘had psychiatric problems’

A dual Swiss-Spanish national arrested in connection with the murder of two Danish and Norwegian hikers in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains in December was receiving Swiss disability benefits for psychiatric problems, a Spanish newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Swiss suspect in murder of Scandinavian hikers 'had psychiatric problems'
The scene of the crime where two Scandinavian tourists were killed in Morocco in December. Photo: KECH24 MOROCCAN NEWS CHANNEL / AFP

The 25-year-old who grew up in Geneva believed “he had demons in his head who were telling them what to do” and that “thanks to the Koran he had managed finally learned to control them”, Spain’s El Mundo newspaper reported a Geneva-based friend of the suspect as saying.

The man began receiving Swiss disability benefits for these psychiatric problems when he turned 18 and continued to receive those benefits after he moved to Morocco in 2015, the man’s friend added in a report that has not been officially confirmed.

The Swiss-Spanish man was arrested on December 28th for alleged links to the murders of Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland who were found dead in the High Atlas, south of Marrakesh on December 17th.

Flowers, candles and photographs of the two victims are placed at a memorial at Copenhagen's City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen) on December 28th. Photo: Thomas Sjørup/Ritzau Scanpix

He is not suspected of personally having taken part in the murders, which are believed to have been carried out by four men belonging to a cell inspired by Islamic State (Isis) group ideology, according to Moroccan counter-terrorism authorities.

However, the Swiss-Spanish dual national is “suspected of teaching some of those arrested in this case about communication tools involving new technology and of training them in marksmanship,” according to Moroccan authorities.

He also subscribes to “extremist ideology” and has been involved in the “recruitment of Moroccans and sub-Saharans to carry out terrorist plans in Morocco”, Morocco's central office for judicial investigations has stated.

Mother says suspect was in Geneva at time of murders

Spain’s El Mundo newspaper also spoke to the mother of the Swiss-Spanish dual national who said everything being said about her son was “lies”.

The woman, who lives in Madrid, said that her son had been in Geneva with family when the murders occurred on December 17th.

She admitted her son had had a tough adolescence after losing his father at the age of 15, and that he had “smoked a lot of joints, burned cars and had committed a number of robberies.”

She also said that after living in a youth centre and being introduced to the Koran, her son had “started going to the mosque a lot” but that she had “not noticed anything unusual”.

She said her son had never had Muslim friends and suspicions that he planned to rob a jewellery store in Switzerland and give the proceeds to so-called Islamic State (Isis) didn’t add up.

Investigators had not found any evidence, she said.

In late December, Swiss federal police confirmed that the dual national arrested in Morocco had a criminal record including drug offences, theft, burglary, unlawful entry and domestic violence.

He left Switzerland in 2015 after suspicions he had become radicalized, the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) confirmed to Swiss news agency SDA.

Swiss media on Tuesday reported that the man had started attending the Saudi-funded Geneva Mosque in Le Petit-Saconnex after he converted to Islam.

The mosque was placed under new management by the Saudi Arabia-based Muslim World League in early 2018 after a series of allegations that some members of staff had links to terrorism.

Fedpol has refused to comment on the report in the El Mundo newspaper, saying only it remains in close contact with Spanish, Moroccan, Danish and Norwegian authorities.


Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

Four suspected members or sympathisers of the Islamic State group have been detained in Germany and Switzerland in a cross-border operation, prosecutors from the two countries said Tuesday.

Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

In Switzerland, three people were picked up in the cantons of Zurich, Sankt Gallen and Lucerne, national authorities said, adding that seven further searches were also carried out.

The suspects, whose identities were not released, are accused of “participation in or support for the outlawed organisation Islamic State”.

In Germany, a man was detained in the western town of Roemerberg, federal prosecutors said.

Identified only as Aleem N., he is “strongly suspected of preparing a serious violent attack threatening the security of the state and of belonging to a foreign terrorist organisation”.

He is believed to have attempted to travel from Germany via Turkey to Syria in September 2020.

“In Syria, the suspect wanted to join the foreign terrorist organisation Islamic State, attain military training and then take part in combat or terrorist attacks,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

However, Aleem N. was unable to reach Syria for reasons that were not immediately clear and returned to Germany.

“At the latest in April 2021 he joined Isis in Germany and carried out vast propaganda activities for the group,” prosecutors said.

His duties included “mainly translating official texts, videos and audio messages by Isis from Arabic into German and distributing them on various Telegram channels in German-speaking areas”.

“Isis considered such activities to be equivalent to taking part directly in violent jihad,” it added.

The suspect is also believed to have taken part in a telephone conversation with Isis leaders in late 2021 to “verify his reliability” before travelling to “IS zones of operation”.

However, “a further attempt” to reach Syria in January 2022 “failed again”.

Aleem N. was to appear on Tuesday before a federal judge who will decide whether to remand him in custody.

German intelligence services estimate that more than 1,150 people have travelled from Germany to Iraq and Syria since 2011 for Islamist reasons.

More than a third have since returned to Germany, while at least 270 have been killed in Iraq or Syria.

“A low three-digit-number” are currently detained in the two countries, according to the intelligence services’ 2021 report.