Belgian court jails Sharia4Belgium leader

BRUSSELS - The leader of the Sharia4Belgium group, accused of recruiting volunteers in Belgium to fight for the extremist Islamic State and the Levant, has been jailed for 12 years.

Fouad Belkacem, 32, was jailed by a court in the Belgian city of Antwerp on Wednesday on "terror"-related charges after he was found guilty of recruiting young men to fight in Syria as head of the organization.

Prosecutors said Belkacem used lectures and social media to persuade dozens of young men to fight with militant groups in Syria.

He was tried along with 44 other defendants in the case, which is believed to have been the largest of its kind in Belgium.

- Deadly attacks

Only seven of the 45 defendants were in court as they received sentences ranging from three to 12 years in jail, some of which were suspended and most were handed down in absentia.

Most of the defendants were believed to be either fighting in Syria or to have died there. 

The trial comes two months after the deadly attacks in Paris in which 17 people were killed and also a series of anti-terror raids carried out across Belgium last month.

Just under 300 people left Belgium in the two years up to December, 2014, to fight in Syria, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.

The London-based think-tank said Belgium was one of the most heavily affected countries in Western Europe, supplying 27 fighters per million citizens.

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