Rabat - Moroccan investigators said Thursday they have arrested three fugitive suspects in the grisly murder of two Scandinavian hikers as they follow a link to Islamic extremism.
The arrests in the city of Marrakesh on Thursday morning follow a first arrest on Monday of a man suspected of belonging to an Islamic extremist group, hours after the discovery of the two women's bodies in the High Atlas mountains.
"The suspects have been arrested" and investigators are in the process of "verifying the terrorist motive, which is supported by the evidence and the findings of enquiries," a statement from Morocco's central judicial investigations office said.
State television 2M reported on its website that authorities consider the two women's slayings a terrorist act. Local media reported that the suspects had links to the Islamic State group.
The women, who were from Denmark and Norway, were discovered stabbed in the neck Monday by other tourists, who alerted police, according to national media. Hiking in the area was temporarily suspended.
The killings have shocked Morocco, a popular tourist destination where such attacks on foreigners are extremely rare.
The Rabat public prosecutor's office said in a statement Wednesday that the only captured suspect has affiliations to a terrorist group, without naming the group.
The suspect was arrested in Marrakech on Tuesday. Three other suspects have been identified and but are still on the run, a security official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.
Investigators are also probing the authenticity of a video circulating on social media which appears to document the killing of the two tourists, the prosecutor general added.
The video purportedly showed the killing, with a woman screaming while a man cuts her neck with what appears to be a kitchen knife.
A source from Imlil said one of the victims was found dead inside her tent while another was found outside.
The remote mountainous region where the women were found dead is 10 kilometers from the village of Imlil - often the starting point for treks to Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest peak.
Broadcaster 2M released photos and videos Wednesday of forensic investigators and others working around the women's brightly colored tent on a rocky hillside. The broadcaster said the tent held food and belongings for three people, including an ID card.
Moroccan media outlets reported that investigators have video surveillance footage showing three suspects putting up a tent near the victims' tent and leaving the area after the slaying.
Authorities in Denmark and Norway warned their citizens from hiking without local guides in Morocco after the killing. Danish police officials said Wednesday they sent an officer to Morocco to assist in the investigation.
Morocco is generally considered safe for tourists and is a key ally of the United States and Europe in the fight against terrorism. Morocco has struggled for years with sporadic Islamic extremism, and more than 1,000 Moroccans are believed to have joined the Islamic State group.
Marrakech a famous destination
Media in Norway identified the Norwegian hiker as Maren Ueland, 28. The mayor of her family's hometown of Time, Reinert Kverneland, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that he informed relatives of Ueland's slaying. The victim's mother, Irene Ueland, told NRK her daughter had taken safety precautions before making the trip.
The Danish victim was identified by media in Denmark as Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24. Her mother, Helle Jespersen, told tabloid BT two police officers rang the doorbell Monday evening with the message that her daughter had been killed. She said the family had warned her against undertaking the journey.
The University of South-Eastern Norway said on its website that both women were studying to earn bachelor's degrees in outdoor life, culture and eco philosophy. They attended a campus in Boe, southern Norway and west of Oslo.
"What we know is that they were on a monthlong, private holiday in Morocco. Our thoughts go to the families," the university said on its home page, adding flags were flown at half-staff in their memory Tuesday.