Chris Dyer, Daily Mail, December 17, 2018
The mother of one of the two Scandinavian women found murdered in a Moroccan mountain range has paid tribute to her 28-year-old daughter.
Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, and her friend Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, were found with their throats cut near the village of Imlil in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains on Monday.
Ms Ueland’s mother Irene, from Bryne in south-west Norway, posted a heartbreaking photograph of her daughter with a huge dog and the caption, ‘Our Maren’ and two heart emojis.
A man, reportedly from Morocco, has been arrested in connection with their murders, as several other culprits are being hunted, officials confirmed today.
Ms Vesterager Jespersen and Ms Ueland, who were both named in Scandinavian media today, had reportedly been backpacking in the area when they were killed.
A local guide who works in the area said the body of one woman was found inside the tent they shared and the other just outside it.
Both women’s bodies were found in an isolated mountainous area six miles (ten kilometres) from the tourist village of Imlil.
It has been reported they may have not been travelling with a guide as they trekked near Mount Toubkal — North Africa’s highest peak.
After paying tribute to her daughter, Mrs Ueland told Norwegian broadcaster NRK: ‘Her priority was safety. The girls had taken all precautionary measures before embarking on this trip.’
She said they had been studying together at the University of South-Eastern Norway and had gone backpacking for a month-long Christmas holiday on December 9.
The arrested man, thought to be Moroccan, was taken into custody on suspicion of murder in the city of Marrakesh about 60 kilometres north of Imlil, the ministry said.
He was being held in custody ‘to determine the motive of the crime while investigations continue to arrest other individuals who have been identified and suspected of taking part in criminal acts’, the central bureau of judicial investigation in Morocco said in a statement.
Both women had been studying ‘outdoor activities and cultural guidance’ at a college in the village of Bo, in Telemark, Norway, Danish newspaper BT reports.
Ms Vesterager Jespersen, from Ikast, west Denmark, ‘had her throat cut,’ her mother Helle Petersen was quoted by the BT as saying.
Her family had warned her against going to Morocco ‘because of the chaotic situation’, she added.
Ms Jespersen was originally from Denmark but had been living in Norway for some time, according to her social media.
Helle Jesperse told BT the family was ‘completely broken’, after being told the news of her daughter’s death just before Christmas.
Describing the moment the police arrived at her door she said: ‘I saw that there were two police officers there, I knew what had happened. I broke down.’
Ms Jespersen has been described as ‘adventurous’ and ‘always happy and positive’ by her family, who had reportedly tried to get her to come home for the festive period.
On November 21, Ms Jespersen wrote of her trip on Facebook: ‘Dear friends, im going to Morocco in december. Any of you guys whos around by then or any mountain friends who knows something about Mount Toubkal? [sic]’
She had also posted pictures from previous trips in which he is hiking in mountains as well as skiing and kayaking.
Imlil is as a starting point for trekking and climbing tours of Mount Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa.
A fellow traveller who Ms Ueland met in Iceland said she had planned to travel across Greenland and loved ‘being in the wild’.
Marius Fuglestad, 28, told the Norwegian VG newspaper: ‘Five months ago we went together across Iceland. Now she’s gone. We talked about the fact that life can be short and you must live it while you can.
‘She was a positive girl who spread good energy and always was gentle. She enjoyed being in the wild and wanted to see if a trip was something for her.’
Hossein, a local guide in the area, said: ‘It’s very bad for the region. There will undoubtedly be cancellations.’
Concern was running high at the French Alpine Club of Casablanca, which organises hikes in the High Atlas mountains.
A source there said the club officials were trying to figure out if the two women had gone hiking alone or with a guide.
Tourism is a cornerstone of Morocco’s economy and the kingdom’s second-largest employer, after agriculture.
Another guide, identified only as Mustapha, told VG: ‘All of Imlil is in shock. This is a tragedy for the whole town. Nothing like this has happened [here] before.’
The sector accounts for ten per cent of national income and is one of the country’s main sources of foreign currency.
A Norwegian policeman from the embassy in Rabat is travelling to Marrakesh to act as a liaison between the authorities.