Former Prague imam sentenced to 14.5 years in prison for financing terrorism

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Former Prague imam Samer Shehadeh will serve 14.5 years in prison for helping to commit a terrorist attack and finance terrorism. On Tuesday, the defendant concluded an agreement on guilt and punishment with the public prosecutor and, subsequently, Prague City Court confirmed the arrangement. Shehadeh was already sentenced to a ten-year sentence last year for similar crimes, so this decision will extend his prison sentence by 4.5 years.

Thirty-seven-year-old Shehadeh confessed to the act. He said that he did not regret it because he considered it right.

“I’m not a terrorist,” he said. He added that he was only trying to fight against the criminal regime in Syria, which he says is committing genocide in the country. The man faced up to 20 years in prison for possible help with the terrorist attack.

Similar to last year, the former imam refused to stand up when sentencing. He justified this by saying that he did not respect Czech law. The man has previously stated in court that Czech legal decisions are not relevant to him because they do not abide by Islamic Sharia law. However, the chairwoman of the senate, Zuzana Zápalková, imposed a fine of CZK 5,000 (€193) on Shehadeh.

The judge stated that the senate had recognized the agreement on guilt and punishment between Shehadeh and the public prosecutor because the punishment was adequate and within the possible penalty. Neither party appealed against the verdict, they could only do so if the court rendered a decision in violation of the agreement. After the meeting, the prosecutor told reporters that if Shehadeh did not confess, he would propose a slightly harsher punishment.

According to the indictment, Shehadeh flew to Turkey in 2015 where he met with representatives of the terrorist organization Al-Nusra, later known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of Syria). He handed them the money he had collected in the Muslim community in the Czech Republic and Slovakia to treat wounded militants.

At the same time, according to the prosecutor Marek Bodlák, he agreed with them that he would recruit new fighters for the organization and continue to organize collections. Shehadeh also wanted to take part in the fighting in Syria himself, but due to vision problems, he eventually agreed that he would have been more beneficial to the fighters in the Czech Republic.

The indictment of the former Prague imam further accused him of supporting a Sudanese man living in Slovakia by helping him join the Al-Nusra organization. He provided him with money for equipment and with the necessary contacts and information for the trip. The man came to Syria in May 2016 and trained to become the commander of a unit of frontline attackers who also carried out suicide attacks, and fought for the establishment of Islamic Sharia law. In April 2017, according to Bodlák, he was killed in battle.

Shehadeh was already convicted of such conduct last May. The court sent him to prison for ten years. Samer’s brother, Omar, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison, and Samer’s sister-in-law, Fátima Hudková, is to spend six years behind bars. However, the couple was prosecuted as fugitives, and the court ruled in their absence. According to Bodlák, the Public Prosecutor’s Office still has no information about the couple.

The former imam was of interest to Czech intelligence agencies years ago when he urged Muslims not to attend anti-terrorist services with Christians. He left the Czech Republic in 2017 but subsequently was accused of participating in a terrorist group. Police detained him in Jordan. He was transferred to the Czech Republic in November 2018 and has been in custody ever since.

Title image: Samer Shehadeh (Czech News Agency)

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