Louisa Vesterager Jespersen (born 1994) grew up in the Danish town of Ikast. She attended Vestre School before enrolling at Ikast-Brande Gymnasium [da] in 2013. She had visited a number of countries, including Argentina, Peru, and Norway. In 2017 and 2018, Jespersen applied to join the Fjällräven Polar Expedition.
Maren Ueland was born in Bryne, Norway in 1990.
Jespersen and Ueland studied outdoor recreation and nature guidance at the University of South-Eastern Norway in order to become tour guides. The pair had arrived in Morocco on 9 December as tourists, with the intention of trekking and “chasing experiences”, according to Jespersen’s mother. The two women arrived in Marrakesh first, then travelled to Imlil in the Atlas Mountains. The village of Imlil is popular with tourists as the main base for climbing Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak.
Four attackers had shared a video on social media before the attacks, pledging allegiance to the ISIS terror group, and discussed “destruction caused by the warplanes of the Crusader alliance”. “Keep fighting the enemies of Allah, wherever you are, you have no excuse,” one of the attackers said. “Be informed that we are your supporters… you have allies among us.”
Terrorists attacking tourists, according to Swedish Defence University researcher Magnus Ranstorp, is not a new phenomenon, and it aims to destabilise the country where such attacks occur.
While Morocco is generally regarded as a safe tourist destination; the most recent terrorist attack occurred in 2011, when 17 people were killed in a bombing at a restaurant in Marrakesh; over 1600 Moroccans have travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State in the civil war. Moroccan authorities initially ignored ISIS recruits, but later realised they could return to commit terrorist acts in Morocco. As a result, the Bureau central d’enquête judiciaire [fr] (BCIJ) was established.
“Moroccan authorities appear to have a good grip on the jihadist situation, and cooperate with European and US authorities,” according to a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. Moroccans are overrepresented in “diaspora terrorism,” which is terrorism that occurs outside of Morocco’s borders; for example, two Moroccans were behind the 2017 London Bridge attack, a Moroccan killed people in the 2017 Barcelona terrorist attacks by driving his van into pedestrians in La Rambla, and another Moroccan killed two women the next day in the 2017 Turku attack.