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German court sentences church robbers to jail

A court has sentenced eight men to jail time after the group broke into churches to allegedly fund fighters in Syria. Although some had links to the Salafist scene, the court found no ties to "Islamic State."

A group of eight men between the ages of 35 and 37 were found guilty of taking part in several church and school robberies over a period of four years, ruled a court in Cologne on Monday.

The sentences range from two years and seven months to four years and ten months in prison for aggravated theft carried out by a gang as well as grievous bodily harm. Although some of the accused had ties to the radical Salafist scene in Germany, the men did not appear to be linked to the militant "Islamic State" group.

Prosecutors said the men carried out the break-ins to raise money for armed fighters in Syria, or as the judge previously said, they were "stealing for Jihad." They were accused of stealing offertory collection boxes, crosses, chalices and various other objects from churches.

However, presiding judge Ralf-Peter Sossna said there was not demonstrable proof that "significant amounts" accrued from their burglaries were funneled to fighters in Syria. 

The judge likewise said there was not enough evidence to suggest that the robbers were planning to carry out a serious act of violence in Germany.

At the center of the gang is a Moroccan man who prosecutors say appeared in the German section of a YouTube video, which encourages Muslims to fight in so-called jihad. 

Following several burglaries in the German cities of Cologne and Siegen, the men were arrested in police raids in November 2014. Monday's decision marks the end of a trial that began in October 2015.

rs/rc (dpa, KNA)