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Belgian IS militant linked to ‘Jihadi John’ sentenced

A Belgian court on Thursday sentenced an Islamic State extremist linked to the British militant nicknamed “Jihadi John” to 30 years in jail in absentia over filmed executions in Syria.

Arben Imishti, from the northern port city of Antwerp, left for Syria in 2014 and was identified by Belgian intelligence services in a video of the decapitation of Syrian soldiers, Belga news agency reported.

He appeared unmasked in the video alongside Mohammed Emwazi, the Kuwaiti-British militant who became notorious for a series of executions in 2014-2015.

The black-clad Emwazi, who was dubbed “Jihadi John” by the British media, was killed in a 2015 coalition drone strike in the Syrian town of Raqa.

The court in the town of Mechelen convicted Imishti in his absence of “terrorist murder”, and in addition to the jail sentence deprived him of his rights and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Imishti’s family say he is dead, citing a message from an IS leader, but Belgian prosecutors have raised doubts.

“This would not be the first time that someone has been declared dead in Syria, only for them to return secretly to Belgium and escape justice,” the federal prosecutor said during the trial earlier this month.

“We have not received any death certificate”.

Belgium has one of the highest numbers of people who have joined IS in Iraq and Syria of any country in Europe, and has sentenced other people over similar crimes in Syria.

In 2017 Hakim Elouassaki, a former member of the now-dissolved Sharia4Belgium group, was sentenced to 28 years in jail for having killed a hostage in Syria after the hostage’s brother could not come up with a full ransom.

Elouassaki bragged about the killing on the phone to his girlfriend in Belgium, unaware that the line had been tapped by Belgian authorities.

He was present for the sentencing after having been arrested in 2013 after returning from Syria.

The conviction of Imishti came as a Belgian court announced that it would deliver its verdict on April 23 on Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks that were claimed by IS.

Abdeslam is on trial over a shootout in Brussels that led to his capture in March 2016, an incident that investigators believe inspired the attackers from the Paris cell to carry out suicide bombings in the Belgian capital days later.