Dutch jihadist gets six years for joining al-Nusra

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A Dutch court sentenced an Islamic jihadist to six years in jail in his absence Tuesday for joining the ranks of the al-Nusra Front to fight in Iraq and Syria. The trial of eight others, none of whom were present in the Rotterdam court, was postponed however, as the judge ruled it was unclear whether the men, who include a rapper and a former postman, were still alive and able to defend themselves in court.

Adil Bouchouh, 27, who comes from Rotterdam, was jailed for six years, after the court heard he left the Netherlands in 2014 to fight in Syria and Iraq, particularly in the Idlib region. Although he is believed to be still alive, his exact whereabouts are unknown.

“Mr Bouchouh deliberately refused to attend court today. He has shown, through telephone conversations with his parents, that he was a member of the al-Nusra Front from 2014 to 2017. The threat presented by participating with such jihadist groups must be severely punished,” said the presiding judge Jaco Boek.

Prosecutors had sought a nine-year jail term for him, as they step up efforts to prosecute Dutch men and women who joined groups such as the so-called Islamic State. At least 280 Dutch citizens, a third of them women, left the Netherlands to join IS and other groups in Syria and Iraq.

About 45 have been killed and another 45 have recently returned, leaving 190 believed to be still in the Middle East, although their fates are largely unknown. Investigating them is “not simple”, relying largely on photos and videos posted on social media or messages sent to their families, the prosecution service said last year when it launched its investigations.

Prosecutors on Tuesday asked the court to proceed with the trial of Marouane Boulahhyani, accused of joining IS in 2013, when he was just 18. A rapper from the eastern city of Arnhem, he was known by his stage name “Maru-One”. In September, he offered to turn himself in to a Dutch embassy to await trial.

“But he said, that before doing that he wanted to take part in one last offensive at Deir Ezzor,” prosecutor Bert Haneveld said. Since then Boulahhyani has disappeared, and has ceased all contact with the Dutch justice system. “How can we try someone if we don’t even know if he is still alive,” asked his lawyer Barbara Klunder. “You can’t turn yourself in at an embassy if you are dead,” she added, persuading the court to postpone the trial to another date.

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