Convicted Jihadist Goes Free Following Degauque Trial in Brussels

On Nov. 9, 2005, Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old Belgium convert to Islam, blew herself up in a suicide attack against an American convoy near Baghdad. She is reputed to have thus become the first Western woman to commit a suicide attack.

Five young men were accused by Belgian authorities of belonging to a terrorist network that sent Degauque and at least three other persons to Iraq to take part in the jihad against American and allied forces. One of the young men, Youness Loukili, lost a leg fighting against American forces during the siege of Fallujah. After initially denying having ever been in Iraq, during testimony last October Loukili finally admitted to his actions. In keeping with the defense strategy, Loukili explained his involvement in the anti-American jihad in terms identical with those employed by the Western anti-war movement. “It was an unjust war,” he said:

Millions of people protested in the streets of Barcelona, Madrid or Washington. The Americans said that there were weapons of mass destruction, but there weren’t. Even though the U.N. didn’t authorize it, they went in anyway. I didn’t see any other solution. (Source: RTL Info)

Presiding judge, Pierre Hendrickx, described Loukili’s testimony as “exceptional.”

Last Thursday, the trial of the so-called “Degauque network” concluded — and Youness Loukili left the court a free man. Like his four principal co-defendants (a sixth man was tried on lesser charges), Loukili was found guilty. But following two years in preventive detention, he was granted immediate probation. According to the Belgian news service Belga, the court found that the “attitude of the defendants may have had its source in a feeling of resentment concerning the American invasion of Iraq without a U.N. mandate” and treated this as an extenuating circumstance. As concerns Loukili in particular, moreover, the court found that the loss of his leg constituted “a severe punishment” and that he thus deserved “considerable leniency.”

The judges’ opinion in this connection stands in marked contrast to Loukili’s own words on the stand. Though it was not his aim to become a martyr, Loukili explained, “If I had died, that would have been a plus.” (Source: RTL Info)

It should be noted that wire service reports on the trial from the AP and Reuters are both highly misleading. Among other things, the AP report fails altogether to mention Loukili’s liberation; and while the Reuters article does note that Loukili’s sentence was suspended, its title — “Belgian court jails Iraq suicide bomb recruiters” — is particularly egregious. In fact, three of Loukili’s four principal co-defendants — all but alleged ringleader, Bilal Soughir — remain at liberty. This is not because they were tried “in absentia,” as Reuters incorrectly reports. Rather, as reported in the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, the Court found that there was no serious risk of their fleeing country and refused to have them arrested: presumably pending an expected appeal.