Dutch court convicts 6 Muslims of terror group membership

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AMSTERDAM (AP) — A Dutch court convicted six Muslim men Thursday of membership in a terror network that recruited youngsters to fight with groups such as Islamic State in Syria, a trial that pitted tough terror laws against the Netherlands' tradition of tolerance and freedom of expression.

The six were among eight men and one woman convicted Thursday of various crimes linked to a network of radical Muslims that operated in an impoverished neighborhood of The Hague, spreading radical Islamic messages on social media, websites and at readings.

At a heavily guarded courtroom in Amsterdam, a three-judge panel handed down sentences of up to six years — high by Dutch standards and intended, the court said, to send a clear deterrent message in a country that has seen some 220 people leave to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Presiding Judge Rene Elkerbout said the organization "contributed on a large scale to a climate in which youngsters felt called upon to go to Syria and fight." Two of those convicted Thursday are believed to be fighting in Syria and were tried in absentia.

Andre Seebregts, the defense lawyer for one of the main suspects, identified only as Azzedine C., said his client backed Islamic State for its fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad and that the group's litany of human rights abuses only became public knowledge after his arrest.

Seebregts suggested the sentences may have been high as they came in the aftermath of last month's Paris attacks, although judges made no mention of the deadly rampage.

"It is very difficult to explain how you would get such a high sentence if the Paris attacks were not taken into account somehow," Seebregts said, adding that he would likely appeal his client's conviction and six-year-sentence.

A prosecutor hailed the verdicts as a victory in the Dutch fight against terror and radicalization, saying it helped establish where freedom of expression ends and incitement to terrorism begins.

"Freedom of expression is a great good, but there are limits," said prosecutor Wouter Bos. "When you actually incite people to commit serious crimes, when you incite people to join groups such as ISIS and Al Nusra, you cross a line and it is no longer freedom of expression."

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