Suicide bomber recruitment trial starts in Belgium

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BRUSSELS, Oct 15 (Reuters) Six men went on trial today accused of recruiting people in Belgium for an Islamic militant group, including a female convert to Islam who carried out a suicide attack in Iraq.

''The principal charge they face is being a member, and for one of the men, a leader of a terrorist group,'' public prosecutor Lieve Pellens said.

''They were recruiting people in Belgium and one of them was this Belgian woman.'' Nicknamed the ''Belgian kamikaze'', 38-year-old Muriel Degauque blew herself up near a US patrol in November 2005 in what security sources said was the first suicide attack by a European woman in Iraq.

No one else was killed in the attack.

The trial in Brussels takes place amid fears that Islamic militants are using Belgium as a logistics and support base for attacks in other countries.

Last year, a Belgian court sentenced 11 people to up to seven years in prison for belonging to an organisation linked to the 2003 attacks in Casablanca which killed 45 people and the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 which killed 191 people.

Degauque came from a working-class family in the economically depressed region of Charleroi. She converted to Islam after marrying a Moroccan man. Her parents said he had brainwashed their daughter.

The trial is expected to last about four weeks, Pellens said.

Only Bilal Soughir, accused of being the ringleader, has been detained and could face up to 10 years in prison for his alleged role in the organisation.

Among the accused is another Belgian convert to Islam, Pascal Cruypenninck.

Reuters SKB GC1556

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