Security fears halt Belgium Syrian fighter hearing

28th January 2016, Comments 0 comments

A Belgian court on Thursday cited security concerns as it adjourned the appeal hearing of several people -- some linked to key figures in the Paris attacks -- against jail terms for recruiting fighters for Syria.

"We are adjourning the hearing until tomorrow because security measures are not satisfactory," judge Pierre Saint-Remy announced in court.

"If tomorrow we do not have satisfactory security measures, then the hearing will be adjourned sine die (indefinitely)," Saint-Remy said.

Judicial sources said the decision appeared to reflect concerns about personal protection for the judges as Belgium remains on high alert after the Paris killings, with armed troops patrolling the streets and guarding key buildings and institutions.

In July, a court handed down jail terms of up to 20 years after 32 people were tried for allegedly running one of Belgium's largest jihadist recruitment networks sending fighters to Syria.

Most of the defendants were tried in absentia, chief among them Abdelhamid Abaaoud who helped organise the November 13 Paris gun and bomb attacks which left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded.

Abaaoud, sentenced to 20 years, was killed by French security forces a few days after the attacks.

Among the others sentenced, Chakib Akrouh, given a five-year jail term, died with Abaaoud, a Belgian of Moroccan origin who lived in the gritty Molenbeek quarter of Brussels.

Belgian investigators said at the time that Abaaoud was the ringleader of an Islamist cell the authorities broke up in January as it planned attacks on the police.

Police shot and killed two suspected militants in Verviers, eastern Belgium, with the country on edge after a three-day string of Islamist attacks in Paris that killed 17 people, mainly at the offices of satirical offices Charlie Hebdo.

In February, Abaaoud claimed responsibility for the Verviers plot and said he had joined the Islamic State group in Syria.

The case attracted a lot of attention amid fears that young Belgians could return home from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq both battle-hardened and dangerously radicalised.

After the Verviers raid, the government deployed troops outside major institutions in Belgium including government buildings, EU premises and diplomatic missions.

This security was beefed up considerably in November and remains in force.

The Belgian authorities have charged 11 people with terrorism-related offences linked to the Paris attacks which increasingly appear to have been largely organised and coordinated from Brussels.


© 2016 AFP

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