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Europe

Belgian jihadists in Syria stripped of welfare benefits

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2013-08-19

Two Flemish cities have decided to penalise presumed Belgian jihadists, currently fighting alongside rebels in Syria, by depriving them of the social benefits they enjoyed as citizens of Belgium.

Belgian jihadists who travel to Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s troops are now being penalised by their home country’s government.

According to Belgian media reports on August 19, the Flemish cities of Antwerp and Vilvoorde have indeed deleted 29 such presumed jihadists from lists of individuals receiving social benefits from the state.

The official reason given for the move was that these people no longer lived at their registered address.

Investigations carried out by city authorities found that the presumed jihadists had been accessing their Belgian savings by withdrawing money from banks in Turkey, just across the Syrian border.

The action taken by the Flemish cities has also resulted, for example, in the suspension of 1,000-euro monthly welfare payments to the wife of one of the men, even though she still lives in Antwerp. The woman’s husband, Saïd M'Nari, reportedly left Belgium in May as a member of dissolved radical Islamist group Sharia4Belgium, which has been qualified as a terrorist organisation by legal authorities in Antwerp and accused by Interpol of sending fighters to Syria.

The official reason cited for the discontinuation of Mrs M’Nari’s welfare checks was that she reported that she was no longer seeking employment.

In Syria, thirty-three jihadists from Antwerp and Vilvoorde

Flemish daily newspaper “De Standaard” explained in its August 19 issue that in recent months Belgian police and intelligence services discovered that Belgians who had travelled to Syria to join the rebels were still receiving welfare payments.

In June, Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp and president of Flemish separatist party NVA, had threatened to punish the presumed jihadists.

“It would be unjust for these people to benefit from social programmes and use, for example, their unemployment payments to finance their fight in Syria,” he was quoted as saying on the website for Flemish news station VRT in June.

Beyond having their government aid revoked, the Belgian jihadists would also be prosecuted upon their return to Belgium, de Wever added.

For the last several months, the Belgian government has been trying to weaken recruitment of jihadists in Belgium. As part of that effort, the interior ministry has set up a “task force” meant to monitor the situations of Belgians who have left for Syria to join the rebels.

In April, the federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that it was aware of 33 presumed jihadists in Syria who were originally from Antwerp and Vilvoorde, nearly all of them linked to Sharia4Belgium.

In late July, the case of a 16-year-old female who had left for Syria to marry a rebel was also flagged. The young woman had made contact with the radical Islamists over the internet.
 

Date created : 2013-08-19

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