French extremist in court for Brussels Jewish museum attack trial

BRUSSELS (AFP) – A French extremist appeared in court yesterday 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 10.30am.

“Nemmouche, Mehdi, 33 years old, unemployed,” he told the criminal court in Brussels, which spent the day yesterday selecting the 12-member jury ahead of the start of the full trial on Thursday.

This file court drawing made on June 26, 2014 shows Mehdi Nemmouche, the 29-year-old suspected gunman in a quadruple murder at the Brussels Jewish Museum, during a court hearing in Versailles, France. – AFP

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.