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.


Foreigners gather at India’s religious Kumbh Mela festival

Updated 38 min 21 sec ago
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Foreigners gather at India’s religious Kumbh Mela festival

  • Foreigners too are among the ascetics, saints, sadhus and spectators thronging the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers
  • A record 22.5 million people plunged into the waters on the first day of the Kumbh last Tuesday

ALLAHABAD, India: At the Kumbh Mela, the world’s biggest religious event, millions of Indian Hindus are not the only people bathing in the sacred waters to wash away their sins.
Foreigners too are among the ascetics, saints, sadhus and spectators thronging the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati rivers in northern India for what is billed as humanity’s biggest gathering.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati grew up in a Jewish family in California but moved in 1996 to an ashram in Rishikesh — the town made famous internationally when the Beatles visited in 1968 — and changed her life and her name.
“I was on holiday with a backpack and when I got to Rishikesh, on the banks of the sacred Ganges, I had a very deep, very very powerful spiritual awakening experience which made me realize where I need to be, where I need to spend my life,” she said.
The 47-year-old is among the worshippers taking a dip at the Kumbh, which is expected to attract well over 100 million people over the next seven weeks.
“The reason we take a bath in the sacred waters is to achieve immortality ... immortality of the soul,” she said.
“It felt amazing, it always feels amazing... Normally only the body gets wet but here you actually feel like your inner self is getting wet, your heart, your soul is getting wet, your spirit... The depth of my being is being touched.”
A record 22.5 million people plunged into the waters on the first day of the Kumbh last Tuesday, according to local officials.
Nearly 30,000 police helped by drones buzzing overhead have been deployed to oversee crowds and prevent stampedes.
A vast tent city with restaurants, roads and marketplaces has sprung up along the river, with pilgrims camped out across a sprawling 45-square-kilometer (17-square-mile) zone.
Westerners who have immersed themselves in Hindu spirituality include Baba Rampuri, who claims to be the first foreigner to be initiated into India’s largest and most ancient order of yogis, the Naga Sannyasis of Juna Akhara.
The surgeon’s son — reportedly born William A. Gans — grew up in Beverly Hills and moved to India in 1970, and like Saraswati is active on Facebook and Twitter.
“I am not a great believer in modern technology, or the consumerist messages being sent out through the medium, but we have to make people aware that we exist,” he told the Indian Express.
Another is Sir James Mallinson, the dreadlocked fifth baronet of Walthamstow and British academic ordained as a mahant, or Hindu priest, in 2013. He also runs a paragliding firm in the Himalayas.
Many of the foreigners at the Kumbh are simple tourists though, keen to see the ash-smeared, pipe-smoking Naga sadhus, naked except for beads and flower garlands.
One ascetic has had his right arm raised for seven years. Another has been standing for eight months and aims to do so for another 43 months.