Brussels, Belgium: An appeals court in Belgium's northern port city of Antwerp upheld Wednesday a 12-year jail term and fine of 30,000 euros ($33,000) for the leader of an Islamist group that sent jihadists to Syria.
Fouad Belkacem, 33, the chief of the Sharia4Belgium group who is serving his sentence in Belgium, was convicted in Antwerp in February last year of radicalising, recruiting and dispatching young men to wage holy war.
The appeals court in Antwerp also upheld jail terms of 12 years and fines of 30,000 euros for two other Sharia4Belgium leaders, Said M'nari and Houssein Elouassaki, the Belga news agency reported.
The court also confirmed a jail term of four years and a fine of 15,000 euros for Mohamed El Youssoufi, a member of the group.
It was not immediately clear if the three others were among the 37 who were tried in their absence.
Sharia4Belgium rose to prominence in 2010 after a protest against a proposed ban on wearing the full-face Islamic burqa in public.
It found fertile ground for recruitment in Antwerp, Belgium's second biggest city, which has a large Muslim community, mainly from Turkey and Morocco, as well as one of Europe's biggest Jewish Orthodox communities.
Belkacem, a hardline ideologue known for his virulent street sermons and online videos, was the leading figure in persuading young Belgians to fight holy war in Syria.
He had already been convicted in 2012 for incitement of hate against non-Muslims, and was portrayed by the others on trial as the spiritual leader of the group.
The main members of the Sharia4Belgium group were arrested during a police dragnet in April 2013.
Forty-six members of the group originally faced charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, but only eight were actually present during the five-month trial that ended February 11, with one deemed medically unfit to stand trial.
The rest were believed to be either still in Syria, or dead.
The 37 were sentenced in their absence to between five years and 15 years in jail.
Belgium is the European country that has produced the most jihadist fighters relative to its population size, with some 500 believed to have gone to fight in the Middle East.