A Brussels court has convicted a group of men of forming a terror organization. The 'Verviers cell' has been sentenced to between eight and 16 years in prison.
Four men were jailed for forming a terror organization in a Belgian federal court in Brussels on Tuesday, ending the trial of a group known as the Verviers cell. Nine of the men were convicted in absentia. They were sentenced en masse to up to 16 years in prison.
Prosecutors had called for a sentence of 15 to 18 years.
The judge in the case, Pierre Hendrickx, said the cell was planning an attack of some sort and may have intended to target Zaventem airport in Brussels in 2015. The airport ended up being one of the targets of the March 22, 2016 attacks.
The cell was raided one week after the fatal attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January, 2015. Belgian police in the town of Verviers stormed a hideout of the group, and the ensuing exchange of gunfire was so intense that the house caught on fire.
Two members of the group were killed in the shootout, while one was taken into custody. Other arrests followed in the shootout's aftermath, but the nine men tried in absentia remain at large. It is believed they could be in hiding, dead, or fighting with the so-called "Islamic State" ("IS") in Syria.
Links between the Verviers cell and the attackers who carried out the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris have been established. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the leader of the Verviers cell, was a key figure in planning the November attacks in Paris. He was killed a few days after those attacks in a shootout with French police in St. Denis.
mz/kms (AFP, Reuters)