Iraqi court sentences Belgian jihadist Tarik Jadaoun to death for Islamic State membership

Belgian jihadist Tarik Jadaoun is seen in this undated photo released by the Iraqi judiciary.

An Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced a Belgian jihadist, who threatened Europe in propaganda videos, to death by hanging for membership of the Islamic State group.

The tough punishment is the latest doled out in the conflict-scarred country to foreigners who flocked to the self-declared caliphate of IS.

​Tarik Jadaoun, known by his nom de guerre Abu Hamza al-Beljiki, earlier pleaded not guilty to a range of terror charges, insisting he had got lost and pleading for mercy.

In Brussels, the foreign ministry called for the death penalty to be commuted.

“We would like the death sentence to be changed to life imprisonment,” spokesman Didier Vanderhasselt said, noting that Belgium was opposed to capital punishment.

30-year-old Jadaoun, who was captured in ex-IS bastion Mosul in August, appeared before the Baghdad court dressed in a beige prison uniform with a shaved head and bushy moustache.

The hearing lasted for less than 10 minutes, with a judge sentencing him to be hanged until death.

Jadaoun, who refused to defend himself after the charges were read out, was immediately taken out of court with his face covered by guards and loaded into a prison van.

He now has 30 days to appeal the verdict during which time the sentence should not be carried out.

In addition, he was sentenced to three years in prison and handed a fine worth $2,300 for illegally crossing the Iraqi border.

A still image taken from a video shows Belgian jihadist Tarik Jadaoun being escorted out of court after his trial in Baghdad, Iraq.

In a statement released after the sentencing, the Iraqi judiciary described Jadaoun as among the most wanted foreign terrorists who fought in Syria and Iraq.

Jadaoun, who has Moroccan roots, said during a first hearing on May 10 that he was forced by one of the top IS commanders to appear in videos threatening attacks against Belgium and France.

The footage saw Jadaoun earn the moniker the new Abaaoud, after his compatriot Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of November 2015 attacks in Paris.

He claimed that he had not been a fighter for IS but was instead in charge of a group of nurses.

“I took care of everybody,” he told the earlier hearing.

Investigators had previously alleged that Jadaoun was in charge of the cubs of the caliphate, about 60 children aged eight to 13 who received intensive fitness and weapons training. There was no mention of these allegations at his trial.

In total, Iraqi courts have sentenced to death more than 300 people, including dozens of foreigners, for belonging to IS, judicial sources said last month.

Since January, some 100 foreign nationals have been sentenced to death in Baghdad and around 185 to life in prison, officials said.

Iraq has previously executed dual nationals accused of belonging to groups including Al-Qaeda, but is yet to put to death any Westerners sentenced over IS links.

Thousands of foreign fighters from across the world flocked to the black banner of the jihadists as the group seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Their caliphate has since been reduced to a rump territory of desert in the east of war-torn Syria.

The fate of those who survived ferocious onslaughts by various forces against IS has been a major headache for their home governments, which are often against seeing them return.

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