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Belgian police target Islamist volunteers for Syria

Published: Updated:

Belgian police staged dozens of early morning raids Tuesday on radical Islamists suspected of recruiting volunteers to fight the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Police carried out “46 raids essentially in Antwerp and in Vilvorde,” just outside Brussels, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office told AFP.

An unspecified number of people suspected of “participating in the activities of a terrorist group” were detained, the spokesman added. Details on the operation will be provided at a news conference in the early afternoon.

Belgium is among several European nations concerned over the departure to Syria of hundreds of young Islamist radicals.

Authorities concerned over reports some 80 Belgians have joined opposition fighters in Syria have vowed to take steps to prevent others leaving.

The prosecutor’s office said that among those arrested in the northern port city of Antwerp on Tuesday was a well-known Belgian Islamist figure, Fouad Belkacem.

Belkacem was the spokesman for a group known as Sharia4Belgium that favored installing sharia law in Belgium but which voluntarily announced an end to its existence in October.

Belgian media said that another man who was wounded in Syria had been interrogated by police.

A 38-year-old Frenchman well-known in radical Islamist circles in Belgium was killed Sunday while fighting Assad forces as part of an Islamist brigade in Syria, a relative told the Belga news agency.

Raphael Gendron left for Syria several months ago to fight with the ‘Falcons of Sham’ headed by Abdelrahman Ayachi who was wounded Sunday and who is the son of Syrian-born radical Imam Bassam Ayachi, Belgian media said.

A report released early this month by King's College London said up to 600 people from 14 countries, including Austria, Britain, Germany, Spain and Sweden had taken part in the Syria conflict since it began in March 2011.

The largest contingent was from Britain but based on population, the figures for Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands were the most significant, with around 200 between them.

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