“The raids, the result of an investigation that began last year, reflected Syria’s growing allure to militant Islamist fighters who see Syria as a prime battleground.” “Belgian Police Arrest 6 on Charges of Recruiting for Syrian Insurgency,” by James Kanter and Rick Gladstone for the New York Times, April 16 (thanks to Alexandre):
BRUSSELS “” The authorities in Belgium raided 48 homes nationwide on Tuesday and detained six men implicated in what prosecutors described as a jihadist recruitment drive for the insurgency in Syria, where an increasingly international array of rebels is fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
Activist groups reported the discovery of at least 31 bodies, some burned or handcuffed, in a suburb of Aleppo.
The raids, the result of an investigation that began last year, reflected Syria’s growing allure to militant Islamist fighters who see Syria as a prime battleground. The foreign jihadist element in the insurgency has alarmed Western powers that want to see Mr. Assad step down but do not want him replaced by an Islamist militant government or stateless mayhem.
Some of the most fearless jihadist groups in Syria have foreign fighters, most notably the Nusra Front, which last week publicly confirmed its alliance with Al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch and pledged fealty to the Qaeda leadership.
The Belgian authorities said their investigation focused on a group known as Sharia4Belgium and whether it constitutes a terrorist group. The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that it was aware of 33 people apparently with links to the group from Antwerp and Vilvoorde, a community north of Brussels, who were either in Syria or en route.
Most foreign jihadists in Syria are believed to come from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, as well as from the Sahel region of northern Africa. According to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a partnership of academic institutions based in London, 140 to 600 Europeans have gone to Syria since early 2011, representing 7 percent to 11 percent of the total number of foreign fighters.
The police raids were in cities that included Antwerp and Brussels and in a number of smaller towns and suburbs in an operation involving 225 officers, the statement by the prosecutor’s office said. They seized cellphones, money and computers.
The investigation showed that recruitments were carried out by directly contacting youths in the street and inviting them to private meeting places in Antwerp, according to the statement.
“The prosecutor’s office regards it as important to attack the structures and the groups that allow young Belgians to go to Syria,” the statement said, adding that the main concern was youths who had Jihadist ideologies rather than those who wanted to help create a democratic Syria….