BRUSSELS, Belgium – Five men were convicted Thursday on charges of belonging to a terrorist group that sent fighters to Iraq, including a Belgian woman who blew herself up in an attack on U.S. troops north of Baghdad in November 2005.
Bilal Soughir, 34, who prosecutors said was the leader of the group, was given a maximum 10-year sentence by the court's three judges.
Police and prosecutors said Soughir was responsible for communicating with terrorists in Iraq. The other four were given sentences of 28 months in jail. A sixth member of the group who did not face terrorism charges was found guilty of falsifying documents but received no punishment.
The court found that Soughir and his small Belgium-based group, which included his younger brother, Souhaieb, helped recruit and send fighters to Iraq, including 38-year-old Muriel Degauque, who died in an attempt to attack a U.S. military convoy when her explosives went off prematurely on Nov. 9, 2005. No one else died.
Degauque, the daughter of a hospital secretary, grew up on a quiet street in a town outside the city of Charleroi before becoming a baker's assistant. She became involved in Islam after marrying an Algerian. Belgian prosecutors say Degauque entered Iraq from Syria a month before her attack.
Authorities say the Belgian group Degauque became a part of had embraced Al Qaeda's ideology.
The group included her second husband, a Belgian of Moroccan origin, who entered Iraq with Degauque and was killed in murky circumstances while allegedly trying to set up a separate homicide bombing.
Authorities said the Belgian network had been planning to send more volunteers to Iraq for attacks.
Defense lawyers for the six argued they were not terrorists but rather freedom fighters opposed to U.S. forces in Iraq.
The reading of the 200-page verdict took most of the day to complete at the city's palace of justice, which was under tight security due to recent terror threats in the Belgian capital.