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22nd Jul 2018

Belgian court sentences "terrorist" group on eve of EU summit

  • Antwerp's court on Wednesday sentenced the group's leader to 12 years (Photo: John Lord)

The Belgian group Shariah4Belgium was a “terrorist” organisation, a Belgian court in Antwerp ruled in a mass trial on Wednesday (11 February).

Its leaders indoctrinated young Belgians in an attempt to turn them into “foreign fighters” in the Middle East, the court said, according to Belgian media.

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  • The EU summit comes in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings (Photo: Ben Ledbetter)

The group’s spokesperson, Fouad Belkacem, was judged to be its de facto leader and is being held responsible for the radicalisation of its members, some of whom subsequently went to fight in Syria.

Belkacem has been sentenced to 12 years in jail.

The court also handed out prison sentences to several other members of the now defunct organisation.

A total of 45 suspects were put on trial. They had all been members of Shariah4Belgium, an organisation which existed for 31 months between 2010 and 2012.

The group aimed to create an Islamic state in Belgium and became notorious for Belkacem’s provocative statements, such as his call for the death penalty for gay people.

After it was dissolved in October 2012, several of its members went to Syria to fight president Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Belgium's public prosecutor had demanded a 15-year prison term for Belkacem.

Belkacem, who, in 2012, had already been sentenced to jail for two years for inciting hatred and violence against non-Muslims, claimed in December 2014 that he is “not a terrorist”, and had asked for acquittal.

Most of the 45 suspects were not present at the trial, but are still in Syria or Iraq. At least nine are presumed dead.

Earlier on Monday (9 February), a court in the Netherlands acquitted two men of preparing terrorist activities.

The Dutch prosecutor had demanded two years in jail because it said the two were preparing to fight in Syria, but the court did not find sufficient evidence.

European authorities' are concerned that “foreign fighters” who return to Europe will plan terrorist attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris or the thwarted plot to attack police in Verviers, Belgium.

The European Parliament will vote on Wednesday on a resolution recommending possible counter-terrorism measures.

Counter-terrorism summit

EU leaders will at a summit in Brussels on Thursday also call for extra steps to maintain security.

Draft summit conclusions, circulated last week, indicate they will agree to make “a targeted amendment of the Schengen Borders Code, to allow for systematic checks against all relevant databases in order to detect and disrupt suspect movements, notably of foreign terrorist fighters”.

They call for “monitoring and removal of content promoting terrorism or violence on the internet”.

They also urge MEPs to “adopt urgently the proposal on European Passenger Name Record (PNR) with solid data protection safeguards”.

One idea mooted by the EU’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator, Gilles de Kerchove - to make internet firms hand over the keys to their encryption systems - has not made the cut at this stage.

But other steps to be endorsed include: increasing police and intelligence co-operation; increasing intelligence sharing with Arab countries; tightening EU laws on illicit firearms; and strengthening the bloc’s anti-money laundering regime to help stem terrorist financing.

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