February 23, 2016 / 6:59 PM / in 2 years

Italy judge charges fugitive suspected Islamic State supporter

MILAN (Reuters) - A judge in Italy on Tuesday set a trial date for an Italian woman who converted to Islam and is thought to have joined Islamic State militants in Syria, a legal source said.

Maria Giulio Sergio, 28, left Italy for Syria with her Albanian husband shortly after they married in 2014. Both remain at large but are believed to be in Syria.

A Milan prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for both of them last July, along with eight others. They face charges in an investigation into the planning of militant activities.

Like many other European countries, Italy has stepped up surveillance of people suspected of supporting Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq, as Europeans began traveling to the region to fight.

Prosecutors suspect Sergio convinced her family through Skype conversations to embark on jihad and join her in Syria, where Islamic State has seized swathes of the country and uses an extreme interpretation of Islam to justify attacks on its foes.

The judge said Sergio’s father, who is under house arrest in Italy, her husband, mother-in-law, and a Canadian woman suspected of encouraging her radicalization should all stand trial. It was not clear where her mother-in-law and the Canadian woman are now.

Her elder sister was sentenced to five years and four months in jail after choosing a fast-track trial process.

Erika Galati, a lawyer for Sergio’s father, said she was unhappy with the decision to hold a trial, which she said was not justified, but would try to convince the court of her client’s innocence.

It was not immediately possible to reach the other suspects’ lawyers for comment.

The hearings will start on April 13 in Milan.

Fewer Italians are thought to have become “foreign fighters” than nationals of European countries ,including France, Britain, Germany and Belgium.

Last year, Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti put the total of Italian foreign fighters at 12, including six with dual nationality.

Reporting by Manuela D'Alessandro, additional reporting and writing by Isla Binnie, editing by Larry King

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