A Belgian court has sentenced the leader of Islamist group Sharia4Belgium and some followers to 12 years in prison. It said the group was a terrorist organization and encouraged people to join jihadi fighters.
The court in the Belgian city of Antwerp ruled that 32-year-old Fouad Belkacem was the driving force behind the now defunct terrorist cell Sharia4Belgium despite not having fought in Syria, like most of the other defendants in what is Belgium's largest trial of militants.
Forty-six people were charged with belonging to a terrorist organization that recruited young men to fight with Islamist militants in Syria. The trial had opened at the end of September, but only nine defendants appeared in court. The others are believed to be in Syria.
The verdict comes after authorities uncovered a plot last month to kill police across the country. Two gunmen were shot dead in a series of raids in the eastern town of Verviers.
Belgium has been fertile ground for jihadi recruiters in Europe, with authorities estimating that some 350 Belgians have left for Syria to fight for the "Islamic State" (IS) or similar groups. In Europe, Belgium has produced the most jihadi fighters relative to the size of its population.
ng/sms (Reuters, AFP)