French extremist in court for Brussels Jewish museum attack trial

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, France. (AFP/ Benoit Peyrucq)
Updated 07 January 2019
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French extremist in court for Brussels Jewish museum attack trial

  • More than 300 Belgian and foreign journalists have registered to cover the proceedings which could last until the end of February
  • More than 100 witnesses are due to testify at the trial, which will be attended by the victims' families and Jewish community leaders

BRUSSELS: A French extremist appeared in court on Monday ahead of his trial for shooting dead four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in 2014 following his return from Syria.
Mehdi Nemmouche, accused of being the first battle-hardened extremist to stage a terror attack on European soil, faces a life sentence if convicted over the killing spree in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014.
Both Nemmouche, 33, and Nacer Bendrer, a fellow Frenchman aged 30 who allegedly supplied the weapons, deny charges of "terrorist murder".
Nemmouche, wearing a blue sweater, spoke only to confirm his identity as the hearing began at 10:30 am (0930 GMT).
"Nemmouche, Mehdi, 33 years old, unemployed," he told the criminal court in Brussels, which is expected to spend Monday selecting the 12-member jury ahead of the start of the full trial on Thursday.
More than 100 witnesses are due to testify at the trial, which will be attended by the victims' families and Jewish community leaders, who have denounced the anti-Semitic nature of the attack.
And more than 300 Belgian and foreign journalists have registered to cover the proceedings which could last until the end of February.
The deadly attack, which lasted only 82 seconds, shocked Belgium and the world.
Firing a pistol and then an assault rifle, the gunman killed two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian receptionist at the Jewish Museum.
Nemmouche - born to a family of Algerian origin in the northern French town of Roubaix - was arrested six days after the attack.
He was caught in the southern French port city of Marseille after arriving on a bus from Brussels, carrying a handgun and an assault rifle.
Before the attack, Nemmouche is said to have fought in Syria as part of a terrorist faction and is also accused of acting as a jailer of kidnapped French journalists.
Investigators say he was in Syria from 2013 to 2014, where he met Najim Laachraoui, a member of the gang which went on to carry out suicide bombings in Brussels that killed 32 people in March 2016.
That same Brussels cell is also alleged to have coordinated and sent extremists to carry out the Paris massacre of November 13, 2015, in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.
Both attacks were claimed by Daesh, whose activities in Syria and Iraq lured thousands of extremists from Europe.
Nemmouche and Bendrer, investigators say, met nearly a decade ago while in prison in southern France, where they were both described as "radicalised" inmates who tried to win others over.
Bendrer was arrested in Marseille seven months after the Jewish Museum attack and charged as Nemmouche's accomplice.
Although he was jailed for five years in September by a French court for attempted extortion, he was transferred to Belgium for the trial.

Nemmouche is expected to face a separate trial in France for holding French journalists hostage in Syria.
The former hostages are expected to testify about Nemmouche's character during the Brussels trial, despite the defence arguing that theirs is a separate case.
Nemmouche is said to have voiced admiration for Mohamed Merah, who murdered a Jewish father, his two children and an eight-year-old girl in 2012 in the southern French city of Toulouse.
Belgian Jewish leader Yohan Benizri told AFP he feared Nemmouche's lawyers Sebastien Courtoy and Henri Laquay will try to "play down" the anti-Semitic nature of the museum attack.
The defence team, Benizri added, may even try to "twist" the facts by repeating "totally far-fetched" claims that Israel's intelligence service Mossad staged the attack.
"We don't want Mehdi Nemmouche to become a star. He is a terrorist," said Benizri, who heads the Belgian Federation of Jewish Organizations.
Courtoy himself suggested Israeli agents could be behind the attack when he spoke at a pre-trial hearing on December 20.
"There was the same kind of talk in conspiracy and anti-Semitic circles after the September 11 attacks in the United States," Benizri warned.


Lion Air pilots struggled for control of Boeing 737 MAX plane before crash

Updated 7 sec ago
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Lion Air pilots struggled for control of Boeing 737 MAX plane before crash

  • Investigators examining the Indonesian crash are considering how a computer ordered the plane to dive in response to data from a faulty sensor
  • It is the first time the voice recorder contents from the Lion Air flight have been made public
JAKARTA/SINGAPORE/PARIS: The pilots of a doomed Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX scoured a handbook as they struggled to understand why the jet was lurching downwards, but ran out of time before it hit the water, three people with knowledge of the cockpit voice recorder contents said.
The investigation into the crash, which killed all 189 people on board in October, has taken on new relevance as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulators grounded the model last week after a second deadly accident in Ethiopia.
Investigators examining the Indonesian crash are considering how a computer ordered the plane to dive in response to data from a faulty sensor and whether the pilots had enough training to respond appropriately to the emergency, among other factors.
It is the first time the voice recorder contents from the Lion Air flight have been made public. The three sources discussed them on condition of anonymity.
Reuters did not have access to the recording or transcript.
A Lion Air spokesman said all data and information had been given to investigators and declined to comment further.
The captain was at the controls of Lion Air flight JT610 when the nearly new jet took off from Jakarta, and the first officer was handling the radio, according to a preliminary report issued in November.
Just two minutes into the flight, the first officer reported a “flight control problem” to air traffic control and said the pilots intended to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet, the November report said.
The first officer did not specify the problem, but one source said airspeed was mentioned on the cockpit voice recording, and a second source said an indicator showed a problem on the captain’s display but not the first officer’s.
The captain asked the first officer to check the quick reference handbook, which contains checklists for abnormal events, the first source said.
For the next nine minutes, the jet warned pilots it was in a stall and pushed the nose down in response, the report showed. A stall is when the airflow over a plane’s wings is too weak to generate lift and keep it flying.
The captain fought to climb, but the computer, still incorrectly sensing a stall, continued to push the nose down using the plane’s trim system. Normally, trim adjusts an aircraft’s control surfaces to ensure it flies straight and level.
“They didn’t seem to know the trim was moving down,” the third source said. “They thought only about airspeed and altitude. That was the only thing they talked about.”
Boeing declined to comment on Wednesday because the investigation was ongoing.
The manufacturer has said there is a documented procedure to handle the situation. A different crew on the same plane the evening before encountered the same problem but solved it after running through three checklists, according to the November report.
But they did not pass on all of the information about the problems they encountered to the next crew, the report said.
The pilots of JT610 remained calm for most of the flight, the three sources said. Near the end, the captain asked the first officer to fly while he checked the manual for a solution.
About one minute before the plane disappeared from radar, the captain asked air traffic control to clear other traffic below 3,000 feet and requested an altitude of “five thou,” or 5,000 feet, which was approved, the preliminary report said.
As the 31-year-old captain tried in vain to find the right procedure in the handbook, the 41-year-old first officer was unable to control the plane, two of the sources said.
The flight data recorder shows the final control column inputs from the first officer were weaker than the ones made earlier by the captain.
“It is like a test where there are 100 questions and when the time is up you have only answered 75,” the third source said. “So, you panic. It is a time-out condition.”
The Indian-born captain was silent at the end, all three sources said, while the Indonesian first officer said “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest,” a common Arabic phrase in the majority-Muslim country that can be used to express excitement, shock, praise or distress.
The plane then hit the water, killing all 189 people on board.
French air accident investigation agency BEA said on Tuesday the flight data recorder in the Ethiopian crash that killed 157 people showed “clear similarities” to the Lion Air disaster.
Since the Lion Air crash, Boeing has been pursuing a software upgrade to change how much authority is given to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, a new anti-stall system developed for the 737 MAX.
The cause of the Lion Air crash has not been determined, but the preliminary report mentioned the Boeing system, a faulty, recently replaced sensor and the airline’s maintenance and training.
On the same aircraft the evening before the crash, a captain at Lion Air’s full-service sister carrier, Batik Air, was riding along in the cockpit and solved the similar flight control problems, two of the sources said. His presence on that flight, first reported by Bloomberg, was not disclosed in the preliminary report.
The report also did not include data from the cockpit voice recorder, which was not recovered from the ocean floor until January.
Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesian investigation agency KNKT, said last week the report could be released in July or August as authorities attempted to speed up the inquiry in the wake of the Ethiopian crash.
On Wednesday, he declined to comment on the cockpit voice recorder contents, saying they had not been made public.