Iraq sentences Belgian man to death for belonging to Islamic State

Tarik Jadaoun (top R), known by his nom de guerre Abu Hamza al-Beljiki, sits inside a cell at a court in Baghdad on May 10, 2018. (AFP pic)

BAGHDAD: Iraq sentenced a Belgian man to death by hanging on Monday for being part of the Islamic State militant group, one of dozens of foreign nationals facing the death penalty in Iraq.

Bilal al-Marchohi, 23, was given the death penalty for belonging to and conducting operations on behalf of the group.

During an hour of proceedings at Iraq’s Central Criminal Court, the judge read out portions of Marchohi’s signed confession and showed a video and photographs that he said proved his membership in the group. The images from a phone found in his possession at the time of arrest showed Marchohi carrying a gun and making a hand gesture affiliated with the militants. Several pictures showed him cradling his infant son.

Marchohi repeatedly denied all allegations against him in open court, including that he was a member of Islamic State in Iraq at any time.

“I shouldn’t be prosecuted in Iraq,” Marchohi said. “I should be prosecuted in Belgium, I am a Belgian citizen.”

During the proceedings, judge Jumaa Saidi told the court that the photographs were clear evidence that Marchohi was a member of Islamic State.

A translator was appointed by the judge for Marchohi, who spoke in English throughout the trial. He was also given a court-appointed lawyer with whom he had no contact at all throughout the trial.

Belgian consular representatives attended the proceedings on Monday. The Belgian foreign ministry in Brussels said it was not immediately able to comment.

Marchohi is the second of two Belgians held in Iraq known to have been sentenced to death for a role in Islamic State. Tarek Jadaoun, 30, also known also known as Abu Hamza al-Beljiki, was sentenced to death in May 2018. A senior member of Islamic State, Jadaoun featured prominently in the group’s propaganda videos which threatened attacks on European soil.

Islamic State captured a third of Iraq in 2014 but was largely defeated both there and in neighbouring Syria last year. A battle is ongoing to dislodge the militants from their final populated enclave in Syria near the Iraqi border.

Iraq is conducting the trials of hundreds of suspected members of Islamic State, many of whom were arrested as the group’s strongholds crumbled throughout Iraq.

Human rights groups have accused Iraqi and other regional forces of inconsistencies in the judicial process and flawed trials leading to unfair convictions.