Brainwashed youths 
‘sent to fight in Syria’

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A radical Muslim organisation in Belgium was a well-structured terror group that brainwashed youngsters and sent them to fight in Syria, prosecutors said as a trial started for dozens of suspects.

Only eight of the 46 suspects of the Sharia4Belgium group were present for the trial’s opening. Many others are believed to be fighting in Syria or to have died in the country’s civil war.

The group’s alleged leader, Fouad Belkacem, was led into court by armed guards. He listened in silence to prosecutor Ann Fransen as she said leading a terror organisation has a maximum sentence of 15-20 years.

The case, one of the biggest-ever terror trials in Belgium, centres on Sharia4Belgium and its efforts to indoctrinate young Muslims and send them to Syria to fight. Many members of the group left in August 2012 for Syria, Ms Fransen said.

“This mass departure is a logical and desired result of the indoctrination process,” Ms Fransen told judges in a packed Antwerp courtroom.

Quoting from tapped phone conversations and statements by one of the suspects, who will be a key prosecution witness, Ms Fransen said the Belgians were deeply entwined with al-Qaida-inspired Sunni Muslim groups fighting in Syria that have become the “Islamic State” organisation now being targeted by US-led air strikes. Authorities fear they will return home trained to carry out attacks.

The trial continues.