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Belgian court jails jihadist recruiter for 15 years – Abrini, 6 others held for another month

BRUSSELS: A policeman stand guards the Brussels courthouse yesterday. Mohammed Abrini, suspected bomber Osama Krayem and two other suspects have been heard yesterday at the Brussels courthouse. — AFP
BRUSSELS: A policeman stand guards the Brussels courthouse yesterday. Mohammed Abrini, suspected bomber Osama Krayem and two other suspects have been heard yesterday at the Brussels courthouse. — AFP

BRUSSELS: A Belgium appeals court yesterday sentenced top jihadist recruiter Khalid Zerkani to 15 years in prison after convicting him of enlisting key suspects in the Brussels and Paris attacks. Zerkani is “the biggest recruiter of jihadists Belgium has ever known,” Federal Prosecutor Bernard Michel said during a court hearing in February. Zerkani was originally jailed in July 2015 to 12 years behind bars, before the Islamic State attacks in Paris and Brussels that killed 162 people.

Meanwhile, a Belgian judge yesterday ordered Mohamed Abrini and six other suspects arrested in connection with the attacks in Paris and Brussels kept behind bars for another month, prosecutors said.

Abrini, 31, has admitted being the “man in the hat” seen leaving Brussels Airport the morning of March 22, when two suicide bombers detonated explosives-laden suitcases there, killing 16. Sixteen other people died that same morning when another bomber blew himself up on a Brussels subway train.

Osama Krayem, 23, a Swedish national suspected of being the accomplice of the subway bomber, was also kept in custody for another month, Belgian prosecutors said. Krayem’s defense attorney told reporters his client has been talking to Belgian investigators. “He said he assumed responsibility,” Vincent Lurquin said. “We’ll see what responsibility he will assume, but he has assumed in any event some responsibility, and that’s why he’s talking and being questioned.”

Belgian investigators are especially eager to learn what happened to a backpack Krayem was wearing the morning of the Brussels attacks that resembled one carried by subway bomber Khalid El Bakraoui.

“There’s a bag, he has said what he knew about it,” Lurquin said of his client. “He didn’t avoid the problem. He answered.” Lurquin said that he couldn’t make public any details about the investigation.

The others ordered held in custody by the judge included four more suspects charged in the Brussels attacks, and one man accused of helping key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam escape from France to Belgium. Abrini, who was arrested in Belgium last week, also had close ties to the attackers who killed 130 victims on Nov. 13 in Paris, and is believed to have traveled to Syria and to have met with suspected Muslim extremists in England.

France’s BFM television reported Abrini has claimed to investigators he “wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Belgian and French authorities have detained dozens of suspects in their investigations of the attacks, which were claimed by Islamic State group extremists. – Agencies

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