NAIROBI, Kenya July 13 – Three foreigners wanted on terrorism charges in Belgium were jailed in Kenya for a year on Friday for entering the country illegally, court officials and lawyers said.
Court documents identified two of the men, Ben Abdalla Ismail and Rachid Benimari, as French nationals, although there remained some confusion as French officials have confirmed the nationality of only one man.
A third, Mustapha Bouyabaren, was said to be Belgian.
The men are believed to have arrived in Kenya from Somalia, where a brutal Islamist insurgency is raging to topple the government.
The men pleaded guilty to being in Kenya illegally.
“The magistrate has sentenced them to one year each in jail,” said a court official, who was not authorised to speak to the media but read from court documents which were confirmed by lawyers.
Abdallah Mazrui, a lawyer defending one of two Kenyans accused of hosting the three foreigners and who were also in court Friday, said “they were sentenced to one year for being unlawfully in the country.”
Kenyan police had earlier said it was expected they would be deported to face charges connected to terrorism back home, but after sentencing it was not immediately clear if they would serve their prison terms in Kenya first.
“The foreigners were arrested following intelligence from our partners,” said Njeru Mwaniki, Kenya’s anti-terrorism police chief.
“We have information that they are wanted by their countries on terrorism related issues,” he said, adding that “the suspects will be deported back to their countries to face charges they are wanted for.”
The Belgian government prosecutor said Friday an international arrest warrant on terrorism charges for the three men had been issued by Brussels, which would request their extradition, according to the Belga news agency.
All were arrested Tuesday in the town of Malindi, a popular tourist resort on the Indian Ocean coast.
The two Kenyans arrested, Hussein Omar and Ahmed Omar, pleaded not guilty to supporting the foreigners, and have been released on bail pending trial set to be held on September 9.
A European diplomat said the foreigners were believed to have entered Kenya from Somalia, where Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents are waging a bitter war against the troops of the internationally-backed government.
Documents shown in the court in Malindi said the trio first arrived by air in Kenya’s capital Nairobi in April 2011, where they were given a month-long visa to stay.
In recent years several foreigners crossed from Kenya into Somalia to join the Shebab, but now advances by African Union troops and infighting within the group have seen some foreigners leave the insurgents.
It is not the first time Belgians have been suspected of fighting alongside Islamist groups in conflict-torn countries in recent years.
For the past several months, Belgian authorities have expressed concern over the departure of several dozen young Muslims to Syria, where they are reported to have joined Islamist militia forces.