The long-awaited trial of a Frenchman accused of killing four people at a Jewish museum in the Belgian capital began Thursday in Brussels. The defendant, Mehdi Nemmouche, also is believed to be among the first European jihadist fighters who returned from the Middle East.
Mehdi Nemmouche, now 33, appeared in court wearing an orange sweatshirt and flanked by masked police. He is accused of shooting dead four people in under two minutes in 2014, at the Jewish museum in Brussels. He also is believed to be the first jihadist fighter returning from Syria’s battlefields to stage a terrorist attack in Europe.
Suspect arrested in Marseilles
Days after the shootings, Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French city of Marseilles as he got off a bus from Brussels. Police reportedly found weapons in a sports bag he was carrying.
If found guilty, he faces life in prison. Another Frenchman also is on trial for allegedly supplying Nemmouche’s weapons.
Museum director: Trial will help people move on
Jewish Museum director Pascale Alhadeff told reporters the page on the killings will never be fully turned but that this trial, at the very least, will allow people to move past it a bit more and shed light on what happened.
One of Nemmouche’s lawyers, Sebastien Courtoy, said he would prove Nemmouche was not the assailant.
He said allegations of Islamic State involvement and Nemmouche as a lone wolf attacker for the terrorist group simply wouldn’t stick.
Nemmouche previously had been in prison for petty crime and allegedly became radicalized behind bars. French authorities believe he also fought alongside Islamic State in Syria, and was among the jailers of four French journalists held hostage there between 2013 and 2014, along with other Iraqi and Syrian prisoners.
Violent and crafty
One of the four reporters, Didier Francois of Europe 1 Radio, said in an interview with the station that Nemmouche was violent and crafty.
Francois said Nemmouche treated the French reporters badly, like crushing their fingernails, although the treatment paled to the way Nemmouche tortured Iraqi and Syrian prisoners. Francois recalls heading to the toilet in the mornings and stepping over bloody bodies.
Investigators say there are links between Nemmouche and other jihadists who carried out subsequent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. He faces a separate trial in France on charges of holding French hostages in Syria.