Belgium has been fertile ground for jihad recruiters in Europe, with authorities estimating that some 400 Belgians have left for Syria to fight for the “Islamic State” (IS) or similar groups. In Europe, Belgium has produced the most jihadi fighters relative to the size of its population. More Belgians per capita went to fight in Syria than from any other EU state.
Some of those who returned to Europe were involved in the Paris attacks in 2015 and the Brussels bombings of March 2016.
Sharia4Belgium was a Belgian radical Salafist organisation which called for Belgium to convert itself into an Islamic state. In February 2015 the group was designated a terrorist organisation by a Belgian judge.
Fouad Belkacem, with dual Belgian and Moroccan citizenship, was the spokesman of the organisation and was inspired by UK-based Islamist Anjem Choudary. Also known by the alias “Abu Imran”, he repeatedly made controversial comments, and stated he had been praying for Osama bin Laden.
Belkacem’s Sharia4Belgium which originated in Antwerp, took its inspiration from Islam4UK, a group once led by Anjem Choudary, a radical Islamic preacher who was released from a British jail on 19 October. During Belkacem’s 2015 trial it emerged that he had co-founded Sharia4Belgium shortly after spending time at a London mosque.
Fouad Belkacem said;
- “If you want to land in hell like all unbelievers that is your problem. … We do not have an ounce of respect for you, infidels, nor for the way you live. Our religion and way of life are superior to yours.”
- Belkacem called for violence against the West and said that becoming a jihadist was the greatest act of submission to Allah.
The Jihad Islamist, Fouad Belkacem, whose group Sharia4Belgium sent dozens of jihadists to Syria, has been stripped of his Belgian citizenship and faces deportation to Morocco.
Sharia4Belgium, a radical Salafist group, was founded in 2010 with the purpose of implementing Islamic Sharia law in Belgium. The group generated controversy in September 2011, when it announced the opening of a Sharia Law court in Antwerp, the second-largest city in Belgium.
Although Sharia4Belgium announced its voluntary dissolution in 2012, when some of its leaders were imprisoned, Belgian authorities say it has continued to operate underground to recruit and funnel jihadists.
Belgium is a key source of European jihadists: Some 400 Belgian nationals are now estimated to have traveled to join jihadist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. Of these, approximately 10% have been recruited by Sharia4Belgium, according to Belgian prosecutors.
Belkacem was sentenced 12 years in jail. The court in the Belgian city of Antwerp ruled that the now 37-year-old, was the driving force behind the now defunct terrorist cell Sharia4Belgium despite not having fought in Syria, like most of the other defendants in what is Belgium’s largest trial of militants. Prosecutors presented the court with taped telephone conversations, as well as public speeches, street sermons and videos, in which Belkacem called for violence against the West and said that becoming a jihadist was the greatest act of submission to Allah.
Other forty-six defendants were charged with belonging to a terrorist organization that recruited young men to fight with Islamist militants in Syria.
After he was given a 12-year jail term, Belgian officials in October 2018, stripped him of his Belgian citizenship. As a dual national he retains Moroccan citizenship.
Belgian Migration Minister Theo Francken praised the decision to strip Belkacem of his Belgian nationality, but added that such a move should be automatic after any terrorism conviction.
“The activities of Sharia4Belgium are clearly aimed at violent struggle in Belgium and abroad,” Luc Festraets, one of the prosecutors, told the court. “Other religious groups are to be threatened and political regimes are to be overthrown,” he added, referring to Sharia4Belgium’s anti-Western propaganda.
According to prosecutors, Sharia4Belgium’s members are recruited through social media, but also by means of so-called street dawah. Dawah (Arabic for “invitation” or “summons”) refers to proselytizing, calling people to embrace Islam. Muslim preachers doing street dawah have become increasingly commonplace in towns and cities across Europe and have emerged as a key means to expose, convert and recruit European youth to militant Islam.
“The ‘Dawas’ are a very important recruiting tool for Sharia4Belgium,” Festraets told the court. “This has occurred not only in Antwerp but also in Vilvoorde. Young people are indoctrinated through lessons and lectures about radical Islam.”
“Belkacem is the one who has spread the ideology of jihadist Salafism, including through videos, to preach hatred and violence,” Festraets said, adding: “During raids, police found Belkacem’s material and also a text calling for armed struggle. He plays a leading role in the recruitment and indoctrination of youth. The clear aim was to prepare them for armed combat.”