Home News Brussels Jewish Museum murders: Mehdi Nemmouche guilty

Brussels Jewish Museum murders: Mehdi Nemmouche guilty


This file court drawing made on June 26, 2014, shows Mehdi Nemmouche (C), the 29-year-old suspected gunman in a quadruple murder at the Brussels Jewish Museum, during a court hearing in Versailles, FranceImage copyright
AFP

Image caption

Nemmouche has not allowed himself to be photographed in the years since his arrest

A Frenchman has been found guilty of murdering four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum.

Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, shot dead two Israeli tourists, a volunteer worker and a receptionist in May 2014.

Prosecutors said he fought in Syria for a jihadist group before returning to Europe to carry out the attack.

The two-month-long trial involved apparent witness intimidation and testimony from former prisoners of the Islamic State group in Syria.

A second man accused of helping to plan the attack and providing the weapons, Nacer Bendrer, was also found guilty of murder.

Sentencing will be announced at a later date.

Who is Mehdi Nemmouche?

Nemmouche comes from the town of Roubaix in France, born into a family of Algerian origin.

He was previously known to French authorities, having served five years in prison for robbery. He is said to have met Bendrer, who allegedly supplied the weapons in the Belgium attack, while in prison.

Both have been described as “radicalised” prisoners.

Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

This file photo of Nemmouche was released in 2014 – and he has not been photographed at trial

He travelled to Syria in 2013 for one year, during which time it is alleged he fought for a jihadist group in the country’s civil war.

Investigators say that while there, he met Najim Laachraoui, who was a suicide bomber in the Brussels airport attack of March 2016, which killed 32 people.

Four French people held hostage in Syria allege they were guarded by both Laachraoui and Mr Nemmouche during their captivity.

Links have also been drawn between Laachraoui’s group and the one which carried out the Paris bombings of November 2015.

Nemmouche was extradited to Belgium to face charges connected to the museum shooting, but may also face trial in France over the allegations he was involved in the French prisoner’s captivity.

Intimidation at the outset

The trial was dramatic from the outset.

Security was put in place to match that of the trial of jailed jihadist Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving member of the 2015 Paris attackers.

Days after it began, a lawyer representing a witness reported his laptop and some paperwork on the case had been stolen from his office.

A baseball bat and replica gun were left in their place – something prosecutors viewed as a threat.

In the dock the next day, Nemmouche denounced the attempt at intimidation – and the witness, 81-year-old Chilean artist Clara Billeke Villalobos, went on to testify anyway.

Victims’ children address the court

Next came the orphaned daughters of Miriam and Emmanuel Riva, tourists from Israel who were killed in the attack. The couple had been celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary.

Ayalet, 19, and Shira, 21, described a mother “devoted to her family” and an unassuming father who “loved to travel”.

“Their childhood has been stolen from them,” one of their advisers told the court, “as they have been forced to grow up prematurely.”

Listening to the testimony in the dock, Nemmouche remained impassive, looking away.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Firearms used in the attack were displayed in court as evidence

Three weeks into proceedings, jurors were shown video of Nemmouche in custody after his arrest.

Belgian newspaper Le Soir described it as showing an “arrogant” Nemmouche in front of police with a “disdainful smile”, arms folded.

He repeats his right to remain silent again and again, barely managing to suppress a smile.

“This video stinks of bad faith and sweats guilt,” the lawyer representing the museum, Adrian Masset, said.

Dramatic testimony from Syria

Four French journalists were kidnapped in June 2013 and held hostage by the IS group in the northern city of Aleppo until April 2014.

Two of them appeared in court – pointing out Nemmouche as their captor.

Nicolas Henin told the court: “I have absolutely no doubt about the fact that Mehdi Nemmouche who is present here was my jailer and torturer in Syria under the name of Abu Omar.”

He described him as “sadistic, playful and narcissistic”.

His colleague, Didier Francois, told jurors Nemmouche had beaten him dozens of times with a truncheon.

But Nemmouche’s lawyers said that the journalists’ testimony amounted to a “stunt” and a “trial within a trial” because their kidnapping is the subject of separate proceedings in France.

‘Ultra-radicalised’

By the end of February, prosecutor Bernard Michel was ready to sum up his case and demand a guilty verdict.

He told the court Nemmouche was “not simply radicalised but ultra-radicalised”.

“If attacking a museum with a combat weapon is not violent and savage then nothing will ever be violent and savage,” he said. “We are looking at one of the most serious possible crimes.”

“For the killer, for Mehdi Nemmouche, the identity of the victims mattered little,” he added.

“The aim was simply that there should be victims. Everything was premeditated.”

An unlikely Lebanese-Iranian-Israeli plot

The closing argument from the defence was described by some as “mind-boggling”, as it wove a web of conspiracy involving foreign intelligence agencies and assassination.

Mr Courtoy, Nemmouche’s lawyer, suggested that his client was recruited in Lebanon in January 2013 by Iranian or Lebanese intelligence to join the ranks of IS.

But this claim went unsubstantiated by anything concrete.

According to Courtoy, the murder was not an IS attack, but a “targeted execution of Mossad agents” – a reference to the Israeli intelligence agency, which he claimed the Israeli couple belonged to. The killing was carried out by an unknown person, he said.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Nemmouche’s lawyer Sebastien Courtoy laid out an alleged spy plot

Yet judges investigating the museum attack last month told the court there was no evidence to support any link to Mossad.

Mr Courtoy claimed that it was in this supposed double-agent capacity that Nemmouche was the jailer of the French journalists, though he claimed they were never mistreated.

He said Nemmouche “went off the radar towards the end of 2013” after British jihadists suspected him of “engaging in double- dealing”.

Upon his return to Europe, he supposedly tried to quit the spy group, “which was simply trying to use him”.

“Do these people really belong to Iranian intelligence?” Mr Courtoy mused. “You can see in any case that they are active in Brussels, France, that they have plans to kill people,” he said.

“This is a case of state terrorism”, he added.

Then, Mr Courtoy explained that he couldn’t give further clarifications because he didn’t “want to have an 80-second episode” in his own home – a reference to the 80 seconds it took the killer to carry out the attack at the museum.

He implored the jury to “not make a mistake” by convicting Nemmouche, repeating he had been “set up”.



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