The aftermath of terrorism

The people of Imlil come together at the annual mountain festival to mourn and commemorate Maren Ueland, 28, from Norway, and Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, from Denmark

“Terrorism has no religion”. This banner held up by a beautiful young Moroccan girl in my home town of Imlil says it all. Terrorism has no religion and no place in humanity and yet it is the scourge of our age.

I was walking in the street in Essaouira last week when I was stopped by a friend Annika, “Have you heard?” she asked. “About the two women murdered at Sidi Chamharouch?” I couldn’t take in what she was saying at first. Two women murdered in the Atlas Mountains, the glorious, heart-lifting mountains, on a route that I hike and run all the time by myself? How could this possibly be true? Details started to come out and I thought maybe it was some kind of horrible “accident”, that the men were on drugs, had wanted to party with the girls and it all had escalated and gone terribly wrong. Or perhaps it was someone who was mentally ill.

Within two days,  the truth had emerged. The women had been vilely murdered by three men who had come to the mountains expressly for this purpose. Their deaths are unimaginable. Suffering such fear and pain and having those moments captured on video to promote a code of hatred and twisted religion. I can’t think about it. I pray they found some peace at the very end. My thoughts are constantly with their families.

imlil commemmoration

The mountain festival in Imlil is dedicated to the memory of the two girls

When I got back to Imlil, I found the community devastated. “We are so sorry. We are so sad.May God show mercy to them and their families. This is not our way. This is not Islam. How could this happen here. In our mountains?” My landlord, a deeply religious and good man, came in to see me. He is in his mid-fifties with four daughters and a grand daughter. He sat on my sofa and as we talked, tears came. “They were our daughters too,” he said.

Imlil commemoration

A mountain guide lays a white rose and lights a candle in memory at the mountain festival

On Saturday, it was the annual mountain festival in Imlil. Usually it is a big celebration, but this year it was dedicated to Maren and Louisa and transformed into a commemoration. Hundreds of people from all the surrounding communities came to pay their respects. A shrine to the women was set up with a path leading to it marked by white roses and candles. We were all given a white rose to lay. The Girl Scouts sang and we formed a huge, silent circle to show our solidarity. The air was thick with grief. Every conversation started with, “I am so sorry…”

I was asked to speak because I am a foreigner living here and I speak Arabic. I said what I feel and believe and I would like to say it again to you.

“My deepest condolences to the families of Maren and Louisa, may God be with them. I live in Imlil, just up the hill, and this act is against everything that I have experienced here. These terrorists are men with no heart and no soul. Their evil extremism does not represent Moroccans or Muslims. What I have found here in Morocco, amongst you, is hospitality, honesty, sincerity, kindness and love. I am honoured and proud to live here with you. Peace be upon you.”

commemoration in Imlil

We formed a large silent circle to show our solidarity

I travel all round Morocco on my own and I hike and run in the mountains all the time on my own. Do I still feel safe and is it safe for you to visit? Yes and yes. But please do use a guide when you come and do not camp on your own in isolated spots. As well as ensuring your safety, a guide will also be able to tell you all about the Atlas and the people who live here, so you will have a better experience.

Of course, I had an initial sense of fear. I have passed the spot where the women were killed many times and the men hid out in Tizi Mizik which is my main training run. However, I also go on the bus in London and I walk across Westminster Bridge. I will still do those things, even though terrorists have killed there. I will still go to Brussels and to Paris and to Madrid and to New York and to Strasbourg.

Terrorists exist to spread fear. We must not allow them to win. We are all in this together. Each of us can take a stand simply by being a little bit kinder and more understanding and being the best people we can be.


18 comments on “The aftermath of terrorism

  1. Janice Byers on

    Alice – lovely words – and you are right – it doesn’t matter where you are in the world bad happens – don’t allow it to stop or change the good in the world x

  2. Jane Folliott on

    Beautiful article and all so true. It is kind of sad that a nation and their people feel they must apologise for what has happened.

  3. Sooze on

    Thank you for writing this piece Alice. I am in Morocco. (Tafraout) at the moment & staying a while. I am retired & come to Morocco throughout winter & mainly travel alone. I have only ever received kindness & helpfulness from the lovely people of Morocco. I am lost for words about the murder of these two young women

    My Moroccan friends are shocked & very upset by this callous act – the people who did this do not represent them.

    I, too, will NOT stop visiting Morocco because of this.

  4. Amine on

    On behalf of all Moroccans, thank you so much for these kind words and for the faith you have in this community that is yours.
    We’re all in this together.

  5. Krishan Arora on

    We are all in this together as you say so well Alice, and we will not be cowed. The men who did this represent nobody but themselves and cannot be allowed to divide us.

  6. Diz Randall on

    I am overwhelmed by sorrow, this act against humanity and directed at these 2 young women I find unbearable . May we continue to come together in solidarity and peace . Do not let these acts of violence destroy your trust in the beautiful
    People of Morocco .

  7. Corinne on

    I was recently in Morocco on an outstanding holiday touring this beautiful country.
    This is not Morocco. These warm giving people are not evil. I felt safe alone.
    This was a tragic evil needless murder of 2 innocent women.
    May God Bless their families.

  8. Mr Rahali on

    Dear Alice,
    Beautifully said.
    My deepest condolences to the families and friends of Maren and Louisa. I have never thought that this barbaric crime could be committed by coward terrorists in the middle of the night against two sleeping young women who were guests on our lands. It is the ultimate sacrilege and betrayal to the people of the region and Morocco as a whole.
    May their soul rest in peace.

  9. Chaimae on

    You are gorgeous Alice, may god bless you <3
    Each one represents its self, anyway we should be careful in this world day after day it becomes so scary 🙁 …
    I hope that good people fill this earth.
    PS: everyone tries to
    hurt and kill others is a terrorist.
    Kind regards.

  10. Sachant on

    Propagande : tous les musulmans ont le même coran, les mêmes hadith, le même prophète.
    Propaganda : All Muslims have the same quran, the same hadeeth, the same prophet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *