BELGRADE - A Belgrade court convicted seven Serbian Muslims on Wednesday for financing and recruiting people to help Islamic State in Syria, sentencing them to prison terms ranging from seven and a half to 11 years.
It is the first such verdict involving Serbs suspected of aiding Islamic militants and partly stems from a 2014 law that banned Serbian citizens from taking part in conflicts abroad. The trial started in 2015.
Under the same law, Serbian courts previously sentenced several Serbs for fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine.
Three of the seven men were sentenced in absentia. Abid Podbicanin was sentenced to 11 years in jail, despite reports he died in Syria in 2015, while Goran Pavlovic and Rejhan Plojovic, who remain at large, were sentenced to jail terms of 10 and nine and a half years, respectively.
According to the indictment, prosecutors charged the seven men with "plotting to commit terrorist attacks, financing, recruiting and training others as well as ... for public inciting of terrorism."
Sead Plojovic, Tefik Mujovic, Izudin Crnovrsanin and Ferhat Kasumovic were sentenced to jail terms ranging from seven and a half to 11 years.
All the defendants denied wrongdoing and can lodge an appeal with a higher court.
"The sentence is ... unusually high in our view and off course, we will appeal," Marko Zdjelar, a defense lawyer told reporters.
At least four dozen Muslims from Serbia's southwestern region of Sandzak went to Syria to fight for Syrian rebels or the Islamic State.
Hundreds of Muslims from other Balkan countries including Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia also went to fight alongside militant Islamists in Syria and elsewhere.