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Three leaders of Al Qaeda cell jailed in Belgium

May 11, 2010

In this Oct. 10, 2003 file photo Malika El Aroud is seen during an interview in Brussels. Malika El Aroud was sentenced to eight years in prison after being found guilty of recruiting jihadists and preparing terrorist attacks. -AP Photo/Herman Ricour

BRUSSELS A Brussels court on Monday sentenced three leaders of an Al Qaeda-linked terror cell accused of recruiting fighters for Afghanistan to between five and eight years in jail.

The court handed down an eight-year term to the main figure in the trial, Malika El Aroud, a 50-year-old Belgian militant of Moroccan extraction.

Ms Aroud - widow of one of the killers of Ahmed Shah Massoud, head of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan - had been on trial since March along with eight others, including two defendants tried in absentia.

Massoud was assassinated in 2001 just days before Al Qaeda's September 11 attacks on the United States.

Despite her denials, Ms Aroud was found guilty of “leading a terrorist group linked with Al Qaeda”, which recruited youngsters in Belgium and France to wage “jihad” in Afghanistan.

Her lawyer said she would appeal the sentence.

Ms Aroud, who was acquitted a few years ago when an extremist group went on trial in Belgium, oversaw Internet websites from Belgium and Switzerland calling for “holy war”, the court said in its findings. She had told the court she was “opposed to terrorism but in favour of 'jihad'”. —AFP