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Suspects in murder of Scandinavian hikers begins in Morocco3 minutes read

Three main defendants accused of direct involvement in the murders, could face the death penalty.

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In this file photo taken on December 20, 2018 a combination of pictures shows Rachid Afatti (L), Ouziad Younes (C), and Ejjoud Abdessamad (R), the three suspects in the grisly murder of two Scandinavian hikers whose bodies were found at a camp in Morocco's High Atlas mountains, in police custody following their arrest. Two dozen suspects are set to go on trial in Morocco for offences linked to the gruesome murder of two young Scandinavian hikers late last year. MOROCCAN POLICE / AFP

Two dozen suspects are set to go on trial in Morocco Thursday over the gruesome murder of two young Scandinavian hikers late last year that shocked the country.

Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Norwegian Maren Ueland had their throats slit before they were beheaded in December at an isolated site in the High Atlas mountains.

Three main defendants accused of direct involvement in the murders, who allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group, could face the death penalty.

A total of 24 defendants are due to appear before a criminal court in Sale to answer charges including promoting terrorism, forming a terrorist cell and premeditated murder.

A Spanish-Swiss convert to Islam is among the suspects due to face justice in the city near Rabat, with his lawyer saying he will demand a postponement to “better prepare the defence”.

The families of the slain hikers and their lawyers will not attend the trial, according to information obtained by AFP.

Nature lovers, the two friends Jespersen and Ueland shared an apartment and went to Norway’s Bo University where they were studying to be guides.

They had travelled together to Morocco for their Christmas holidays.

Their lives were cut short in the foothills of Toubkal, the highest summit in North Africa, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the city of Marrakesh, a tourist magnet.

‘Enemies of Allah’

After the bodies were discovered, the Moroccan authorities were initially cautious, referring to a “criminal act” and wounds to the victims’ necks.

But that all changed when a video showing one of the victims being beheaded — filmed by one of the apparent killers on a mobile phone — circulated on social networks.

One of those in the footage refers to “enemies of Allah” and revenge for brothers in Syria.

The video did the rounds online in Morocco, Norway and Denmark.

Danish police last month launched prosecutions against 14 people suspected of sharing the footage.

A separate video in the initial aftermath of the murder showed the alleged killers pledging allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Investigators said the “cell” was inspired by IS ideology, but Morocco’s anti-terror chief insisted the accused had no contact with the jihadist group in conflict zones.

IS has never claimed responsibility for the double-murder.

Abdessamad Ejjoud, a 25-year-old street vendor referred to as the emir of the group by peers, is the suspected ringleader, according to investigators.

Police quickly arrested a first suspect in the suburbs of Marrakesh, and three others were arrested a few days later when they tried to leave the city by bus.

Aged from 25 to 33, all had struggled to get by in poor districts of Marrakesh.

They had recently embraced Salafism, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam, according to friends, neighbours and some family members.

Petitions on the internet have called for anyone convicted of the double murder to face the death penalty.

But a de facto moratorium on carrying out executions has been in place since 1993.

A second Swiss citizen arrested after the double-murder was tried separately and jailed in mid-April for 10 years on charges including “forming a terrorist group”.

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UNESCO adds Morroco’s Gnawa culture to list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

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UNESCO adds Morroco’s Gnawa culture to list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
(Photo credit: multiculturalkidblogs.com)

Gnawa culture, a centuries-old Moroccan practice rooted in music, African rituals and Sufi traditions, has been added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

UNESCO announced this via its Twitter account, on Thursday, December 12, 2019.

Gnawa refers to a “set of musical productions, fraternal practices and therapeutic rituals where the secular mixes with the sacred”, according to the nomination submitted by Morocco.

Often dressed in colourful outfits, Gnawa musicians play the guenbri, a type of lute with three strings, accompanied by steel castanets called krakebs.

They practice “a therapeutic ritual of possession… which takes the form of all-night ceremonies of rhythms and trance combining ancestral African practices, Arab-Muslim influences and native Berber cultural performances. The tradition, which includes the veneration of Islamic holy men, dates back to at least the 16th century.

Originally practised and transmitted by groups and individuals from slavery and the slave trade”, today it is one of the many facets of Moroccan culture and identity.

Gnawa was popularised by a festival that started in 1997 in the southern port city of Essaouira. 

Until then, Gnawa brotherhoods had been little known, even marginalised.

Now, they attract waves of fans each year from across the globe to the Gnawa and World Music Festival in Essaouira that highlights a unique mix of musical styles. 

Gnawa groups “form associations and organise festivals” year-round, which enable the younger generation “to have knowledge of both the lyrics and musical instruments as well as practices and rituals” linked to Gnawa culture.

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Culture & Tourism

10 Safety and Security Tips You Should Note as You Travel this Christmas

How to stay safe during your travels this festive period.

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Safety travel tips for the holidays
A young woman pulls her luggage as she's about to travel. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

You can’t wait for Christmas to come. You’ve made or are currently making plans of how to make the best out of this Christmas season away from home in a vacation you’ve dreamt about all year long. December is finally here, you remember how you’ve googled the best destinations to travel to and how you finally made a choice. It’s a wonderful feeling.

There’s no doubt that travelling during the festive period can be a whole new level of excitement. However, it’s easy to lose your guard and get caught up in the thrill of Christmas adventures and/or shopping. While you get busy thinking about living your best life away from home, make sure that you don’t neglect travel security with these safety tips.

While you are preparing for your December vacations, like many, you may think you have it all sorted. Do you really have everything sorted out? Let’s look at a few things’ travellers like you should consider when travelling

Here is a list of 10 safety and security tips that may come in handy as you make final preparations for your December getaway.

Pre-travel research

As you begin to book your travel, research the destinations you will be visiting beforehand. Take note of risky areas and places you would need to seek out assistance for. Familiarise yourself with emergency numbers and take note of specific country restrictions such as electrical outlet wattage, local customs, traditions and holiday schedules.

The idea here is that while you’d be a stranger visiting the place, probably for the first time, you don’t want to end up being embarrassed or be robbed of a valuable possession. So, research and get a deep insight into the area, the people and be sure of the places you must avoid while vacationing there.

Pack smartly as you travel this Christmas

Only take what you need for the trip and where possible, leave valuable jewellery, clothing and other items at home. According to worldaware.com, “While you should leave unnecessary valuables at home while travelling, it’s important to know how to keep important items as protected as possible”.

Do not leave your valuable items like jewellery in checked bags. They should be in your possession either within your hand luggage or better still, in a waist belt or neck bag. It is equally ideal to have a change of clothes in your hand luggage. This will come in handy if your checked bag(s) gets missing or stolen.

Communicate with family during your trip

As you plan to make that trip, it is also important you tell family and friends about your travel plans and share your itinerary with them beforehand. Make plans for how family, friends and acquaintances can contact you while you’re away. Check-in periodically with family/friends as a basic precaution.

communicate with family and friends as you travel
A young woman makes a phone call while travelling. Photo credit: Shutterstock

During your vacation, you may change hotels, get on a cab or use other means of transport. You can always share your location with family and friends using the share location feature of Google Maps. If you’re using any cab/ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft, you should also share your trip with a few family members or friends.

Arrive early at the airport on your travel date

Allocate plenty of time to pass through security checkpoints as high travel volume during the holidays is likely to increase delays. Ensure you have obtained all necessary documents prior to departure including country-specific visas. Where you’re not clear, ensure to get clearance before the day of your trip. Call the airline you’re using or call the agent that helped with your flight/hotel booking.

Prearrange transportation throughout your trip

Typically, this is best done through your hotel or host. App-based rideshare services are also often an acceptable method of travel, though this can vary by location and local restrictions. If using taxis, make sure they are officially licensed. Remember to always share your transport routes and destinations with family and friends.

young man hails a cab while on vacation
A young man hails a cab while on vacation. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Don’t stick out or draw unnecessary attention while on vacation

People who look like they’re from out of town are especially vulnerable to crime, so try to blend in as much as you can. Be discreet when looking at maps and approach people carefully if you need to ask for directions. Maintain a low profile to prevent drawing attention to yourself and avoid obvious displays of wealth.

Travel in groups this Christmas

It’s pretty much easier to rob one person than a group of people. So, where possible, plan your trips and vacations in a group. Asides being safer, travelling in a group could be much more fun than you could have travelling solo especially if visiting a foreign language country. So, before finalising your travel plans, find out if there are any organised group packages to your chosen destination.

africans vacationing in group
Africans vacationing in groups. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Know your surroundings and stay current

When on vacation, you should be extra sensitive. If something or someone seems out of place, listen to your gut instinct and remove yourself from the situation or seek help. Stay informed of what’s happening in the area you’re travelling to. 

Never carry a lot of cash on you as you travel

Avoid carrying and using too much cash while travelling. As you make plans for your Christmas vacation, consider obtaining a pre-loaded debit card not tied to any of your bank accounts back home. Always keep a small separate amount hidden somewhere on your person in case of emergency. Avoid carrying valuables including tablets, laptops or expensive cameras when out for the day.

Be wary of public Wi-Fi while on your vacation

When you use public Wi-Fi, hackers looking to steal valuable information can access your data including credit card information. If you do need wireless internet service, set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that will allow you to access the internet securely while travelling. You can learn how to stay safe or set up a VPN while using public Wi-Fi here.

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Culture & Tourism

6 of the best travel destinations in Africa

Africa is beautiful. Discover places you wouldn’t believe are in Africa.

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Pyramids of Giza. Photo Credits: Jacques Sierpinski / Aurimages

There is no gainsaying that Africa is mother nature’s favourite as the continent is blessed with immense natural and mineral resources. From deserts to savannahs, rainforests to mountains and waterfalls, name it, the mother continent has it all. No wonder the continent caught the attention of European navigators and explorers who could not resist the diverse richness of Africa. 

The continent plays host to the widest variety of natural wonders, fauna and flora as well as peoples and cultures. Among the many endowments are the natural and historic destinations spread all over the continent. Here is a list of 6 natural destinations you just cannot afford to miss.

10 African Destinations you must visit

The Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga, South Africa

The canyon which could easily be adjudged the most beautiful canyon in the world stretches a distance of 25 km to the north of the Drakensberg. This beauty of mother nature is located in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. The canyon, which consists mostly of red sandstone is located in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. According to Wikipedia encyclopedia, the highest point of the canyon, Mariespskop is 1,944 metres above sea level. This is about 6,378 ft. The lowest point where the river leaves the canyon is slightly less than 561 metres (1,841 ft) above sea level. Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world and the second-largest in Africa. It is also presumed to be the largest green canyon on earth because of its lush subtropical foliage. 

Now, you may wonder, why it made the list as one of the best travel destinations in Africa. Well, here are a few of the reasons:

  1. Bourkes Luck Pothole: the impressive rocks of the Bourkes Luck Potholes offer tourists an exciting view as it is close to tourists’ viewpoint. 
  2. Hippo Trail: this magnificent trail into the Blyde River Canyon is worth every second of your time spent on hiking on it. So, lace up your hiking boots and hit the Hippo Trail. 
  3. God’s Window: need just the perfect photo souvenir to take home from the Canyon? Then think no more! Get your phone or camera and walk down to God’s Window for your beautiful pictures. You’ll get the opportunity of capturing panoramic views that spread all the way down to the Kruger National Park. You can even see Mozambique from this point! 

Ensure you wrap up your stay in South Africa with a tour of the Blyde River Canyon next time you visit.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania 

You have denied yourself a great deal of adventure and pleasure if you are a safari lover but have not visited the beauty that lies in the East African country of Tanzania. Tanzania’s oldest and largest national park, Serengeti National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It hosts the world’s most spectacular annual wildlife migration, which comprises of about two million wildebeest as well as thousands of Zebras.

It is also credited for hosting Africa’s largest lion population, with an estimate of 3000 lions. Other wildlife in the Serengeti includes buffalos, elephants and giraffes. The Serengeti National Park will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. 

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Located in Namibia, in southern Africa, is the Etosha National Park. The country’s flagship reserve is best known for the vast dry pan for which it is named. It’s prominent for its role in preserving black rhinos, leopards, elephants and lions. The best time to visit Etosha is during the dry season. Any time from April to October is perfect. But tourists can also visit during any other time. There are both government-run camps and exclusive camps for accommodations.

Siemens National Park, Ethiopia 

Formed by the massive erosion that affected the Ethiopian plateau for many years, the Siemens National Park has transitioned from erosion rubble to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. Adorned with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp cliffs, Siemens National Park is home to a number of rare animals such as the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else in the world. 

The proof of the pudding is in the eating they say. So for you to fully capture the idea  and appreciate all that Siemens National Park has in stock then you should start rescheduling to include Ethiopia on your travel to-do list 

Yankari National Park, Nigeria

The large wildlife park which is located in the south-central part of Bauchi State, in Northern Nigeria covers an area of about 2,244 square kilometres. It is home to several natural springs. It is also famous for the many varieties of flowers found there. 

For decades, Yankari National Park formerly a reserve, has played host to thousands of tourists. The park has been ranked as the most popular tourist destination in Nigeria. Because of this, the park plays a significant role in the development and promotion of tourism and ecotourism in Nigeria. It is one of the most popular eco-destinations in Africa.

Kruger National Park, South Africa 

Located in the Northeastern region of South Africa lies the Kruger National Park. This park which is widely adjudged as one of the largest game reserves in Africa is famous for its high density of wild animals. These animals, referred to as the big 5, are lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos. But the park is not the exclusive reserve of the big 5 as hundreds of other animals also inhabit the plains of the park. It covers an area of 19,485 km. Kruger National Park is the right destination for your getaway trips if you really want to walk on the wide side.

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