A Belgian court sentenced the head of Sharia4Belgium to 12 years in prison on Wednesday, ruling that his group was a "terrorist organization" that brainwashed young men into joining armed groups in the Middle East.
Fouad Belkacem was led into the Antwerp court in handcuffs by police in body armor and smiled as he listened to the judgment. Dozens of other members of his group received lower sentences in what was the country’s largest-ever trial of alleged terrorists.
Unlike most of the defendants, Belkacem, 32, did not fight in Syria. However, Judge Luc Potargent said he was the driving force in the organization. Prosecutors had asked that he be sentenced to 15 years.
"It is clear that Belkacem ... prepared young people physically and psychologically for armed combat," Potargent said.
He also condemned the Sharia4Belgium group itself.
"The law doesn't state that terrorist attacks already have to be carried out to qualify a group as a terrorist organization. They only have to have the intention to one day carry out such attacks," Potargent added.
Though 46 people were indicted for their association with the group, only a handful appeared in court. Others are believed to be fighting with armed groups in Syria or to have died in its civil war.
Clamping down on the Sharia4Belgium network, which was disbanded more than two years ago, appears to have done little to rein in support for political violence in the country.
Belgian Police have carried out a series of raids and arrests this year against suspect groups since armed men carried out a deadly attack in Paris on a satirical newspaper and kosher grocery store last month.