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Belgian judge sentences jihadists to up to 16 years in prison

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A Belgian judge jailed members of an Islamic State cell dismantled in a raid in the town of Verviers last year for up to 16 years on Tuesday.

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

The judge said El Bali was in touch with leading figures of jihadist groups in Syria and was involved in tactical discussions.

Prosecutors said the men standing trial had returned from fighting with Islamic State in Syria and were in constant contact with the group through the leader of the Paris attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud. They were planning an attack in Belgium, prosecutors said.

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

“For Abaaoud and the Verviers cell the (Brussels) airport at Zaventem constituted a target,” he said.

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

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