A RADICAL Islamic group that recruited youngsters to fight in Syria was a terrorist organisation that wanted to violently overthrow democracy and replace it with strict sharia law, a Belgian court has ruled.
The court in Antwerp yesterday sentenced the Sharia4Belgium group’s “charismatic leader” Fouad Belkacem to 12 years’ imprisonment and gave dozens of other members shorter sentences.
Belkacem, who was led into court in handcuffs by police in body armour, smiled as he listened to the judgment.
The verdicts came in one of Belgium’s biggest ever terror trials – 46 Muslims were originally indicted, though only a handful appeared in court. Others are believed to be fighting with Sunni armed groups in Syria or to have died in its civil war.
Police have carried out a string of raids and arrests this year since a gunfight with suspected Islamist terrorists in the eastern industrial town of Verviers, Belgium, shortly after the Paris terror attacks last month.
The Verviers operation, which left two suspected extremists dead, foiled an imminent terror attack. In the aftermath of the raid, paratroopers were sent on to the streets to help police maintain security and Belgium increased its terror-threat warning to the second-highest level.
Dimitri Bontinck, the father of one of those convicted, said he was happy that his son, Jejoen Bontinck, received only a suspended sentence after he agreed to testify against the group.
He warned that the trial could create unrest. “This verdict could create more hate and frustration,” he said.