AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Ten suspected Islamist radicals went on trial in the Netherlands on Monday, accused of recruiting Dutch Muslims to fight with Islamic State insurgents in Iraq and Syria.
The trial, the largest against alleged jihadists in the Netherlands in a decade, is seen as a test of whether a court can convict suspects who may endorse a radical ideology but have not carried out any attacks in the West.
Lawyers for the defendants said at a hearing on Monday they are innocent of any wrongdoing and have a right to speak out about their religious and political views.
“Some defendants may have crossed lines, but the way the cases are brought in is exaggerated,” said Bart Stapert, an attorney for one of the accused.
Prosecutors say the suspects, aged 19 to 41, played a variety of roles within a single criminal group “with the goal of committing terrorist crimes”. Some allegedly focused on recruiting, others preached in favor of IS at demonstrations and on the Internet and others managed finances and logistics.
“We think it’s important to keep people from going to fight under the flag of ISIS or other terrorist organizations”, prosecution spokesman Wouter Bos told Reuters. “We also don’t want them to return with more skills and commit attacks at home.”
In neighboring Belgium, the leader of a radical Islamist group that recruited young men to fight in Syria was sentenced to 12 years in prison in February
The Dutch secret service last month estimated that 210 Dutch youths have left for Syria since 2013, of whom 38 have been killed.
The chief suspect, identified by the media as Azzedine Choukoud, 33, is accused of “terrorist recruitment” and “inciting terrorism”. Under Dutch privacy law, the court only named him as Azzedine C.
He is a public figure in the Netherlands, after appearing in a television interview as “Abou Moussa” and participating in a pro-Islamic State demonstration in The Hague. He was arrested in Germany in August 2014 with his wife, who is also on trial.
Three defendants are being tried in absentia. They are believed to be in Syria, with one of them possibly dead.
A verdict in the case is expected on December 3.
Reporting by Yoruk Bahceli; Writing by Toby Sterling; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Larry King