February 13, 2017 / 12:04 PM / 6 months ago

Belgian foreign fighter sentenced to 28 years for murder in Syria

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian man was sentenced to 28 years in jail on Monday for killing a prisoner while fighting with jihadist groups in Syria, the first murder conviction of a returned fighter in Belgium.

Hakim Elouassaki, 24, returned to Belgium in 2013 after being wounded in the conflict, a few months after police had intercepted a phone call in which he bragged to his girlfried about executing a prisoner.

The prisoner's family was supposed to pay 70,000 euros ($74,494) in ransom money but only came up with 30,000.

"A bullet through the head, bang, hahaha," Elouassaki, from Vilvoorde near Brussels, was heard telling his girlfriend by phone, according to court documents.

Elouassaki had also sought to film his act, but the camera was badly placed.

The judge at the Antwerp court where Elouassaki stood trial called his actions "inhuman and completely unacceptable".

Before going to Syria, Elouassaki was part of Sharia4Belgium, a group which recruited young Belgians to fight alongside groups such as Islamic State in the Middle East.

The group's leader and several of its members were handed long prison sentences in 2015.

Some 450 people have left Belgium to fight in Syria and Iraq, the highest country contribution in Europe on a per capita basis. Returning Syria fighters have also been involved in militant attacks in Belgium, France and elsewhere in Europe.

($1 = 0.94 euros)

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Philip Blenkinsop

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