Convicted terrorist among seven suspects in Belgian teen's kidnapping

Convicted terrorist among seven suspects in Belgian teen's kidnapping
Khalid Bouloudo during a previous criminal trial. © Belga

A notorious terrorism convict is among seven suspects arrested Monday for the 42-day-long abduction of a Limburg teen whose family has been convicted for drug-related crimes.

Officials on Tuesday said that Khalid Bouloudo, twice convicted for terrorism, is one of the seven men arrested after police rescued of the 13-year-old, kidnapped from his Genk family home in late April.

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In 2006, Bouloudo was handed a 5-year prison sentence after he was identified as a key figure in the creation of a Belgian division of Moroccan terror cell GICM, linked to the 2003 and 2004 bombings of Casablanca and Madrid, respectively.

In 2015, he was again arrested and jailed for 10 years for terrorism, accused of radicalising and recruiting people from Maaseik, Limburg, to fight with the Islamic State in Syria. After an appeal, his sentence was reduced to 3 years with parole.

Bouloudo's involvement in the kidnapping case has sparked fierce criticism from Flemish politicians, who have questioned why law enforcement did not follow-up on his file more thoroughly.

"How is it possible that someone is paroled and yet can gather weapons, form a gang and commit such offences? Surely he should be kept under surveillance?" Kristien Van Vaerenbergh, an MP with the nationalist N-VA party, said in an address to the regional parliament.

Police said the teen was taken from his home by a group of five masked and heavily-armed men who stormed the property in the middle of the night and held him for 42 days as they attempted to exact a €5 million ransom from his family, Le Soir reports.

The rescue operation, which involved support from French, Dutch and American authorities, was kept mostly quiet and saw police retrieve the boy from his kidnappers safely, in exchange of a hefty ransom payment.

In statements to the press, Limburg prosecutor Guido Vermeiren said the seven suspects all came from the Limburg and Antwerp areas.

Six suspects, aged between 24 and 45, remain in custody and are set to appear before a court between Friday and Monday, as judges decide whether they remain in custody pending trial.

A 36-year-old man has since been released from custody but banned from travelling abroad, going out at night or contacting the other suspects or the boy's family, VRT reports.

To secure the boy's safe release, a ransom of €330,000 was paid to the kidnappers, which authorities will aim to track down as MPs warn the money could end up in terror or drug-related networks.

"There are also fears that the ransom will be used to finance terror," Van Vaerenbergh said. "That will further aggravate the facts."

As the investigation unfolds, law enforcement officials have released little information about the kidnappers' motives.

According to several media reports, the boy's father has served jail time for drug trafficking while his uncle is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for drug trafficking after he was identified as a major kingpin in the European drug trafficking network.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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