Belgian prosecutors seek long terms for alleged Verviers jihadists
Belgian prosecutors on Thursday demanded that four alleged jihadists accused of links to the terror cell behind the Paris and Brussels attacks receive between 10 and 18 years in jail.
The men were arrested after a deadly raid in the Belgian town of Verviers in January 2015 which exposed an alleged plan to kill police officers.
The Verviers plot "was the rough draft of Paris," Prosecutor Bernard Michel told the court in Brussels, adding that the accused were under the orders of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the deadly November attacks in the French capital.
"What was this group? Abaaoud claimed it for Islamic State," Michel said, reffering to an interview given by the jihadist to the IS Dabiq magazine just days after the events in Verviers.
"It's Islamic State exporting itself to Belgium and to Europe," he said.
Abaaoud was killed in a French police raid days after the November 13 Paris gun and bombing attacks. He also had close links to the cell behind the March 22 Brussels airport and metro attacks.
The main suspect at the trial of the Verviers cell is Marouane El Bali, who is accused of attempted murder for firing at police during the gunfight in Verviers, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Brussels.
He denies the charges.
Killed in the raid were Sofiane Amghar and Khalid Ben Larbi who went to Syria to join Islamic State in April 2014. The two then slipped back into Belgium to the Verviers hideout.
Prosecutors demanded the longest sentence of 18 years for Mohamed Arshad, who had told the court he acted on instructions from Abaaoud to buy walkie-talkies, ingredients for explosives and rent two vehicles and a flat in Verviers.
Arshad also obtained fake passports and identity cards using photographs and money he was given during a visit to Syria in September 2014. One photo was of Abaaoud himself.
The documents were provided by small-time criminal Souhaib El Abdi, who prosecutors said should be jailed for 16 years.
The prosecution asked for 10 years in jail for Omar Damache, an Algerian who was arrested at an address in Athens where police believe they had zeroed in on Abaaoud. He was later extradited to Belgium.
In all, seven men were on trial, with an additional nine suspects who are still at large tried in their absence.
© 2016 AFP