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

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.


At least 28 killed in Afghan mosque blast

Updated 18 October 2019

At least 28 killed in Afghan mosque blast

  • The explosion took place in Haska Mina district of eastern Nangarhar province, and wounded at least 55 people
  • The dead were “all worshippers”

JALALABAD: At least 28 worshippers were killed and dozens wounded by a blast inside an Afghan mosque during Friday prayers, officials said, a day after the United Nations said violence in the country had reached "unacceptable" levels.
The explosion, which witnesses said collapsed the mosque's roof, took place in eastern Nangarhar province and wounded at least 55 people, provincial governor spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP.
He said the dead were "all worshippers" in the blast in Haska Mina district, roughly 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the provincial capital Jalalabad.
A doctor at a hospital in Haska Mina gave a slightly higher toll, telling AFP that "around" 32 bodies had been brought in, along with 50 wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both the Taliban and Daesh are active in Nangarhar province.
Witnesses said the roof of the mosque had fallen through after the "loud" explosion, the nature of which was not immediately clear.
"Dozens of people were killed and wounded and were taken in several ambulances," Haji Amanat Khan, a 65-year-old local resident, told AFP.
The blast came after the UN released a new report on Thursday saying an "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September.
The report, which also charts violence throughout 2019 so far, underscores how "Afghans have been exposed to extreme levels of violence for many years" despite promises by all sides to "prevent and mitigate harm to civilians".
It also noted the absurdity of the ever-increasing price paid by civilians given the widespread belief that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by either side.
"Civilian casualties are totally unacceptable," said the UN's special representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, adding they demonstrate the importance of talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement.
The figures - 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until September 30 - represent a 42 percent increase compared to the same time period last year.
The UN laid most of the blame for the spike at the feet of "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out a bloody insurgency in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.
July alone saw more casualties than in any other month on record since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) began documenting the violence in 2009.
The first six months of 2019 had seen casualties drop slightly compared to previous years.
But the violence has surged so far in the third quarter that it yanked the overall total for the year back on par with the bloodiest since NATO withdrew its combat forces at the end of 2014.