Suspects linked to Paris attackers sentenced in Belgium

Three of the suspects were handed up to 16-year prison terms for alleged role in 2015 attack plot in Belgium.

    July 5, 2016: A previous version of this article wrongly stated that the suspects were convicted for the November attacks in Paris

    A Belgian court has found 15 people guilty of participating in the activities of a "terror cell", and gave several of them prison sentences of up to 16 years, the Belga news agency reported.

    Marouane El Bali, who survived a gunfight in January 2015 when police shot dead two armed men, was given 16 years in prison on Tuesday, as were two other members of the cell, Mohammed Arshad Mahmood Najmi and Souhaib El Abdi.

    Judge Pierre Hendrickx said El Bali was in touch with leading figures of armed groups in Syria and was involved in tactical discussions.

    Two killed in Belgium 'anti-terror raid'

    Others received lesser sentences ranging from eight years in prison to a 30-month suspended sentence.

    One man accused with the attempted murder of police officers was acquitted of that charge, due to doubts about whether he had used a weapon against them.

    Nine of the suspects were sentenced in absentia. 

    Belga had initially reported that 16 people had been convicted, but later noted that the court had postponed its verdict on one suspect who was absent for medical reasons.

    The suspects have also been linked to the men, who later staged attacks in Paris and Brussels.

    Prosecutors alleged the suspects were members of an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) cell dismantled in a bloody raid in the Belgian town of Verviers in 2015. 

    Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall, reporting from Brussels, said the nine other suspects sentenced in absentia are believed to be in Syria, our correspondent said.  

    Prosecutors said the men standing trial were in constant contact with ISIL through the leader of the Paris attacks in November, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and were planning an attack in Belgium.

    "The cell in Verviers aimed for the bloodiest possible attacks using bombs and automatic weapons," judge Hendrickx said.

    Brussels attacks: New 'man in the hat' video released

    "For Abaaoud and the Verviers cell the [Brussels] airport at Zaventem constituted a target," Hendrickx said.

    Abaaoud was shot dead in a gun battle with French police five days after the attacks in Paris.

    Prosecutors described the Verviers cell as the "rough draft" of the cell that attacked Paris in November 2015. They said the group was under the orders of Abaaoud.

    Shootings and bombings in the French capital on November 13 left 137 people dead, including seven attackers.

    On March 22,  three coordinated bombings at Brussels Airport in Zaventem and at a metro station killed 35 people, including three attackers.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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