Two Scandinavian backpackers, Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark, and Maren Ueland, 28, of Norway were killed in an attack in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains on Monday 17 December while on a hiking and trekking trip.
Speaking to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, Maren’s mother said, “Her first priority was safety. The girls had taken all the precautionary measures before embarking on this trip.”
While the murder of the two women is beyond tragic, what were two young blondes thinking to camp out in Morocco?
There is no denying that Australia has not experienced attacks on young woman backpackers, but a western woman sleeping outdoors in a country where local women veil is tempting fate.
I have visited Morocco many times since the 1960s when travel was indeed safer than it is today. And while I travelled the length and breadth of this beautiful country to research a book, my golden rule was to ensure I reached a safe destination by dusk.
My sincerest condolences to the families who have lost their lovely daughters in the most horrid circumstances in the High Atlas mountains.
But why didn’t a responsible person in Imlil, the base for trekking in the Jebel Toubkal National Park, caution about pitching their tent on the mountainside?
We further learn their bodies were discovered by two French women. Also hiking alone.
Morocco was late in embracing tourism.
When my guide Morocco for the Independent Traveller was published in 1990, it counted little more than a million tourists (about 100,000 each from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands).
Today it welcomes in excess of 10 million and while it has not experienced an “Arab Spring”, discontent is widespread among the poor and at heart, Morocco remains a traditional Muslim society.
The murders have not only damaged the reputation of an unspoilt wilderness area, but they have also shaken government authorities with tourism, now Morocco’s second highest foreign exchange earner after phosphate.
The salutary lesson as more and more women are emboldened to visit developing countries is to never forget their gender leaves them vulnerable.
But while it is evident the Scandinavian girls did not take their safety seriously, no one could have imagined them being decapitated by rootless, radical followers of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the faux-Muslim leader of the so-called Islamic State.