Community service demanded for jihadist caught taking girl, 16

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A 23-year-old man who intended to take a 16-year-old girl to Syria heard a demand for 240 hours of community service plus a three-month conditional prison service this morning. The court heard several jihadists for the first time today.

Imad el O. was held with the girl on March 22 at the airport at Zaventem near Brussels, from where he intended to travel to Syria via Egypt. He has insisted that he was not taking the girl there to fight, but to get married and study Arabic and the Islam. He said the girl wanted to come with him on her own accord, because she was having problems at home with her parents. “When she told her father that she wanted to leave with me, he told her that she should do as she liked, but that she could also never go back home,” el O said. He said to him this sounded like permission to take the girl with him. His lawyer said it was unfortunate the case was made to sound like that of a jihadist who had shanghaied an underaged girl. “Even if she had not traveled to Egypt with my client she would have fled her home with her friends. All she just wanted to do was to get away from her parents,” the attorney said. This case is among several jihadist cases on which judges in The Hague are set to rule on December 1. Maher H. (20), the first jihadists at trial, was charged with terrorist activities, but claimed that all he did while in Syria was render humanitarian assistance to people in need. The Prosecutor’s Office was adamant though that from March 2013 until February 2014 he made preparations and then took part in the fighting in Syria. Maher said that was not true. “I made relief packages and distributed them. And I also worked in a storage for relief. My tasks were to load the packages, blankets, clothing and medicine from the trucks,” he said during the hearing today. He said he worked with some 20 people. According to him there were also relief teams from UNICEF, a German and a Saudi organization active where he worked in Syria. Whether there were also Germans and Belgians among the groups he worked with, he refused to say. Maher stressed that he went to Syria because he considered it his duty to go and help. “What is happening there is unjustifiable and that is why I went.”