Belgian court jails leaders of terror cell

AFP , Tuesday 5 Jul 2016

A Belgian court on Tuesday jailed four leaders of a terror cell broken up in a deadly raid in 2015, which had alleged links to the jihadists who carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The men received jail terms of between eight and 16 years for their role in leading an Islamic State group in the eastern town of Verviers that was allegedly planning to kill police officers.

Marouane El Bali, Souhaib El Abdi et Mohamed Arshad were jailed for 16 years each while Omar Damache was jailed for eight years by the court in Brussels.

Two suspected members of the group were killed on the January 2015 raid on the house in Verviers, located 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Brussels near the German border.

Prosecutors described the cell as the "rough draft" of the terror cell that attacked Paris on November 13 2015.

They described the group as being under the orders of Paris ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

Main suspect El Bali was charged with attempted murder for firing at police during the Verviers gunfight. He denied the charge.

Arshad meanwhile told the court he acted on instructions from Abaaoud to buy walkie-talkies, ingredients for explosives and rent two vehicles and a flat in Verviers. The documents were provided by small-time criminal El Abdi.

Damache, an Algerian, was arrested at an address in Athens where police believe they had zeroed in on Abaaoud. Damache was later extradited to Belgium.

Abaaoud was killed by police days after the Paris attacks, in which 130 people were murdered.

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