Alleged Brussels museum killer was ‘sadistic’ Syria jailer

A masked Belgian police officer is seen during the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer, who are suspected of killing four people in a shooting at Brussels’ Jewish Museum in 2014. (Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2019

Alleged Brussels museum killer was ‘sadistic’ Syria jailer

  • Former hostages came to Brussels to testify against Mehdi Nemmouche, who faces life in prison if convicted of four anti-Semitic murders in the Belgian capital
  • Francois and Henin as well as fellow French reporters Edouard Elias and Pierre Torres were kidnapped in June 2013 and held hostage by Daesh

BRUSSELS: Two French journalists on Thursday told a terrorism trial in Brussels that they had “no doubt” the accused Jewish museum killer is the man who imprisoned and tortured them in Syria.
The former hostages came to Brussels to testify against Mehdi Nemmouche, who faces life in prison if convicted of four anti-Semitic murders in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014.
Nemmouche, a 33-year-old Frenchman, smiled several times as he looked at the journalists during their testimony.
“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,” former hostage Nicolas Henin told the trial.
Henin described Nemmouche as a “sadistic, playful and narcissistic” man.
He said Nemmouche expressed “admiration” for Mohammed Merah in the year after he shot dead a teacher and three children at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse in 2012.
Merah, a self-described Al-Qaeda sympathizer, also shot dead three French soldiers nearby three days earlier.
Journalist Didier Francois also said he “had no doubt” Nemmouche was the man who held him hostage.
“I came for three things: to say that we know him, how dangerous this person is and the risk he will repeat the crimes,” the 58-year-old Francois told the court.
Francois and Henin as well as fellow French reporters Edouard Elias and Pierre Torres were kidnapped in June 2013 and held hostage by Daesh in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo until April 2014.
Elias and Torres were not present Thursday, though they have also been listed as witnesses in the case.
Francois alleged that Nemmouche abused him, including hitting him with a club 40 times, while he was held at a hospital turned prison in Aleppo.
He added that the violence and “torture” meted out allegedly by Nemmouche mainly targeted Syrians and Iraqis also held there.
The prosecution and Jewish groups asked the journalists to give testimony against Nemmouche, who had been in Syria between January 2013 and February 2014.
Michele Hirsch, the lawyer for the Jewish groups, said their testimony was “extremely important” to show the judges and jury what motivated the alleged gunman.
It will also show how much his “idol” Merah influenced him, Hirsch added.
Nemmouche’s lawyers said the journalists’ testimony amounts to a “stunt” and a “trial within a trial” because their kidnapping is the subject of separate proceedings in France.
Also on trial in Brussels is Nacer Bendrer, a 30-year-old Frenchman accused of supplying Nemmouche with the weapons.
Bendrer also faces a life term if convicted of the same charge of “terrorist murder.”
Investigators said Nemmouche attacked the museum shortly after returning from Syria, where he had allegedly fought on behalf of extremist groups.
He allegedly killed an Israeli married couple, a young Belgian employee and a French volunteer.
Six days after the attack, Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French port city of Marseille. Bendrer was arrested in Marseille in December 2014.
The trial is due to end in late February or early March.
Some observers and lawyers hope the trial may yield more detail about Nemmouche’s alleged links with other extremists.
Henin told the court on Thursday that he also recognized among his jailers “Abu Idriss,” the alias of the Belgian-Moroccan Najim Laachraoui.
Investigators say Laachraoui made the bombs for the November 13, 2015, attacks that killed 130 people in Paris and wounded hundreds of others.
Laachraoui was one of the bombers who blew themselves up at Brussels airport and a city metro train on March 22, 2016, killing 32 people and wounding hundreds of others.
Daesh claimed responsibility for both attacks.

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.