Belgium’s largest-ever terrorism trial has begun under tight security in the port city of Antwerp, where 46 members of the Islamist group Sharia4Belgium are being accused of recruiting dozens of young Muslims to fight for the jihadist group, Islamic State.
Sharia4Belgium, a radical Salafist group, was founded in 2010 with the purpose of implementing Islamic Sharia law in Belgium. The group generated controversy in September 2011, when it announced the opening of a Sharia Law court in Antwerp, the second-largest city in Belgium.
Although Sharia4Belgium announced its voluntary dissolution in 2012, when some of its leaders were imprisoned, Belgian authorities say it has continued to operate underground to recruit and funnel jihadists.
Belgium is a key source of European jihadists: Some 400 Belgian nationals are now estimated to have travelled to join jihadist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. Of these, approximately 10% have been recruited by Sharia4Belgium, according to Belgian prosecutors.
Sixteen of the 46 defendants are charged with being leaders of Sharia4Belgium and face up to 15 years in prison, as well as fines of €30,000 ($38,000). The other 30 are charged with being members of the group and face sentences ranging from 12 months on probation to ten years in prison.
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