Belgium: Al-Qaeda cell sentenced

Belgium: Al-Qaeda cell sentenced

The Brussels court sentenced Malika El Aroud to 8 years in prison and a 5,000 euro fine for establishing, leading and financing a terrorist group.  Seven other Muslim extremists were convicted for recruiting youth to battle in Afghanistan, an accusation they denied.  Malika El Aroud will appeal the sentence.

Malika El Aroud, her husband Moez Garsallaoui and Hicham Beyayo were found guilty of leading and financing a network that sent fighters to Waziristan, on the Pakistan-Afghan border.  They were sentenced to 8, 8 and 5 years in prison respectively.  Moez Garsallaoui was sentenced in absentia, as he's currently in Afghanistan.

Seven other suspects were convicted of membership in a terror network.  The ninth suspect, Jean Tréfois, was acquitted.  His participation could not be proven with certainty.  It couldn't be proven that he knew that Hamza El Alami, whom he brought to the Zaventem airport, was on his way to a battle zone.  It looked as though he didn't knowingly actively participate in the activities of the group.  "His very extremist notions are not a transgression, though they are disturbing," said the judged in their decision.  The reading of the sentencing took five hours.

The nine were accused of being members of a terror organization which had links with al-Qaeda.  They supposedly planned attacks in Afghanistan, and according to the prosecution, it can't be ruled out that they wanted to commit extremist acts elsewhere.  Moreover, they supposedly recruited youth for the battle in Afghanistan, but they emphatically denied that.  They said they sympathize with the battle there, but that they did not encourage anybody to fight.

According to the judges, Malika El Aourd used the website, which she had established with her husband, to attract the most vulnerable surfers in an attempt to indoctrinate them and then recruit them to participate in the global Jihad led by al-Qaeda.  The website had considerable powers of attraction and got 1,500 users, the court decision said.

The 50 year old woman had "sweeping responsibility for the death of Hamza El Alami," according to the judges.  the young Frenchman left for Afghanistan in order to fight there after he confided to El Aroud about his doubts.  She convinced him that the devil could offer him temptations (such as establishing a family), but that it was up to him to decide.  Malika El Aroud was all the more to blame because she was already convicted in Switzerland.

Malika El Aroud is 'imprisoned in a sickening logic of a conflict which did not concern her in any way," according to head judge Pierre Hendrix, who expressed doubts about the suspect's balance.

According to the court, Moez Garsallaoui was part of a terrorist group, linked to al-Qaeda, by personally sending fighters to the zone near Waziristan.  He even financed the trips of those who couldn't pay for it, the judged said.  He led the fighers and Malika El Aroud, who stayed in Belgium, formed the basis behind the organization.

Hicham Beyayo, the third suspect who was considered a leader of the terrorist group, was 'under the clear influence of Moez Garsallaoui", but he did not "cut down on his support for al-Qaeda", which included translating messages and videos of al-Qaeda.

The court sentenced him to a 'relatively moderate' punishment: 5 years in jail and 1,000 euro fine.  The punishment is linked to a probation deferment.  He may not administer or moderate radical Islamic websites and he may have no contact with his former companion.  The 24 year old man, who appeared in court under arrest, could already ask for his conditional release, which he will soon do, according to his lawyer, Mr.Vergauwen.

Ali El Ghanouti was sentenced to 3 years in prison and a fine of 500 euro.  The court referred to his influenceable personality.  He is always ready to follow his childhood friend, Hicham Beyayo, they said.  The court pointed out that he was the only one with a job and gave him a probationary sentence for the part exceeding the time he already spent in prison.

Saïd Arissi got 40 months in prison on probation and a fine of 500 euro.  THe judges referred to his obsession to fighting in Iraq and later Afghanistan, but at the time of the events, appeared "truly immature".

Ali El Ghanouti and Saïd Arissi were, on the other hand, acquitted of the accusation of owning explosives.  Hicham Bouhali Zrioul was sentenced in absentia to the maximum punishment of 5 years in jail and 2,000 euro fine.  The brothers Adulaziz and Mohamed Bastin each got 40 months prison on probation and 500 euro fine.  The court regretted that they did not show any  palpable sign of improvement.

Strict security measures were taken during the trial.  Masked agents were posted, everybody had to go through a metal detector, and the way was blocked with barbed wire.  It was feared that an attack would be committed or that an escape was planned.

Source: HLN (Dutch)

For more on the Belgian al-Qaeda cell and Malika el-Aroud see:
* Brussels: Belgian al-Qaeda branch planned to blow up metro, stadiums
* Belgium: "Mother of al-Qaeda in Europe" saved by Belgian secret service
* Antwerp: The Jihadis of Antwerp North (1)
* Antwerp: The Jihadis of Antwerp North (2)
* Belgium: Al-Qaeda cell apprehended
* Switzerland: Islamist website owners found guilty
* France/Italy: Al-Qaeda cell investigation
* Belgium: Report on Belgian al-Qaeda
* Italy: Police charges suspected terrorists with planning France/UK attacks
* Belgium: Belgian cell discovers Islamic resistance is expensive
* Brussels: Terror attack planned
* Belgium: A female holy warrior for Al Qaeda

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