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Belgium jails Frenchman for recruiting jihadists

Published on 14/10/2014

A Belgian court sentenced a Frenchman to 18 years in prison Tuesday for leading a "terrorist group" that recruited jihadists to fight with Somalia's Shebab movement, reports said.

Rachid Benomari, 41, took four people with him to the Horn of Africa nation as well as organising and paying for the mission, the Belga news agency said.

Two other men received shorter jail terms following a retrial of all three at a court in the capital, Brussels.

Belgian Mustapha Bouyahbaren was given a partially-suspended sentence of five years, while Algerian Mohamed Said was also jailed for five years.

The case comes amid growing concerns in Belgium about Muslims travelling to fight with extremist groups in Syria and other hotspots.

Benomari, for whom prosecutors had sought a 20-year term, was found guilty of having “taken part in acts of terrorist groups in the capacity as leader”.

Benomari was originally sentenced in Belgium in May to 20 years in prison for having led a network to recruit jihadists for Somalia and Syria, and of having himself joined Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants in Somalia.

All three men were extradited to Belgium in March from Kenya where they were in prison for illegally entering the East African country.

The court in Belgium had already begun their trial before their extradition and they were jailed in May — Benomari for 20 years and the other two for five years each.

But they were all granted a retrial because they had not been present for the start of the initial proceedings.

Benomari denied having been a member or leader of a terrorist organisation, but prosecutors insisted he was.

“The moment he organised the departure (of militants) to Somalia, he must be considered a leader and not a simple member of a terrorist network,” prosecutor Jean-Marc Trigaux said.

Last month Benomari told the court that he took part in a deadly ambush against African peacekeeping troops in Somalia.

Bouyahbaren and Said admitted before the judges that they had been lodged and trained in camps run by the Shebab group in Somalia, but denied having taken part in combat.

In a separate trial in Belgium, 45 people face charges at a court in the northern city of Antwerp of membership of the Sharia4Belgium radical group, which is believed to be sending jihadist fighters to Syria. Most of those on trial are still at large.