Former Prague imam Samer Shehadeh admitted on Tuesday that he had helped his brother and sister-in-law travel to Syria to join a terrorist organization, Jabhat Fatah as-Sham (Conquest of Syria).
Along with his brother Omar and his sister-in-law Fátima Hudková, were all charged with supporting terrorism. For these offenses, they face up to 15 years in prison.
Shehadeh said he does not consider it a criminal act because he does not recognize the Syrian government or perceive Jabhat Fatah as-Sham as terrorists.
In November 2016, Shehadeh first helped his brother to travel to Syria and join the terrorist organization. Later, he arranged for Fátima Hudková to leave as well.
“I raised funds to help people affected by the war in Syria – to buy food, and secondly I traveled to Istanbul with a sum of money I collected. Then, I contacted jihadists, and I wanted to join them,” Shehadeh said in court.
Czech intelligence services began investigating the trio in 2016. He left his post as imam in 2014 and was eventually expelled by the Czech Muslim community, according to Radio Prague.
Shehadeh is Czech-born with Palestinian roots. Having secured a degree from the Islamic University of Medina, he took a leadership position in the Prague Islamic Centre and began preaching across the country.
Over time, Samer’s statements sparked controversy. When asked about the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he admitted that he could not condemn the deed. In 2010, he preached that “anyone following a different code of law from that set down by Mohammed is ungrateful and an apostate”. In the meantime, Samer and his followers translated a number of Arabic works into Czech, enriching the discourse with such colourful authors as Bilal Philips and Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
There are roughly 20.000 Muslims currently living in the Czech Republic, and only a minority of them are considered regular worshippers.