May 19, 2016 / 5:53 PM / 2 years ago

Belgium seeks up to 18 year jail terms for Islamist plotters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian prosecutor demanded on Thursday jail terms of up to 18 years for suspected members of an Islamic State cell dismantled in a bloody raid in the town of Verviers last year.

Belgian police investigators inspect the entrance of an apartment in central Verviers, a town between Liege and the German border, in the east of Belgium January 16, 2015. Belgian police were questioning 13 suspects on Friday detained during raids against an Islamist group they feared planned to attack police and two other people were held in France, state prosecutors said. A spokesman told a news conference there was still no apparent link to last week's Islamist attacks in Paris and the identities of two gunmen killed during one of the raids on Thursday, in the eastern town of Verviers, had yet to be confirmed. REUTERS/Yves Herman (BELGIUM - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST) - RTR4LOJV

Among the seven men standing trial is Marouan El Bali who survived a gunfight in January 2015 when police shot dead two armed men. Prosecutors said they had returned from fighting with Islamic State in Syria and were planning an attack in Belgium.

The prosecutor sought a 15 year term for El Bali, state broadcaster RTBF said. He is charged with being a leader in a terrorist group, attempted murder, making and storing bombs and planning an attack.

The prosecutor demanded the largest jail sentence, of 18 years, for Mohammed Hamza Arshad, RTBF said. He had joined Islamic State in Syria and is accused of procuring the weapons for the group.

During the trial Arshad said that he was in contact with Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is believed to have been an organizer of several attacks in Europe, including those in Paris last Nov. 13 which killed 130 people.

Abaaoud was shot dead in a gun battle with French police five days after the attacks.

A verdict is expected by the end of June, a spokesman for the court said.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop

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