By Clement Rossignol
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche was convicted of “terrorist murder” on Thursday for shooting dead four people in a Jewish museum in Brussels after coming back from Syria in 2014, the federal prosecutor’s spokesman said.
Sentencing after the two-month-long, Brussels jury court trial, which underlined the threat posed by European jihadists returning home after fighting in Syria’s war, will be announced at a later date.
Nemmouche, 33, remained silent in the dock as former hostages of Islamic State militants as well as victims of the May 2014 museum attack testified against him, though he took the stand briefly on Tuesday to allege he had been “tricked.”
Lawyers for the victims praised Belgian prosecutors for building a rigorous case against Nemmouche that stood up against accusations by the defence that he had been framed in a plot to kill two agents of Israel’s Mossad spy service.
“It’s a victory for justice,” said David Ramet, a lawyer for the two daughters of an Israeli tourist couple, Myriam and Emmanuel Riva, killed in the shooting. The eldest of the two, Shiva, earlier testified in court that the “tragedy would pursue them all their lives”, state broadcaster RTBF reported.
Two men employed at the museum, Dominique Sabrier and Alexandre Strens, also died in the shooting attack.
During the trial, assertions by Nemmouche’s lawyer that video footage of the shooting was faked and that his client never pulled the trigger, outraged the victims’ families and survivors.
European Jewish Congress chief Moshe Kantor on Thursday condemned as a disgrace “the use of reprehensible tactics and conspiracy theories of the defence lawyers.”
The attack in May 2014 was the first staged by a Western European who had fought in the ranks of Islamist militant factions in Syria’s civil war, prosecutors said.
A lawyer for Nemmouche said he would respect the 12-person jury’s decision and not appeal against the verdict.
Another French citizen, Nacer Bendrer, was found guilty of providing the weapon used in the shooting. The two met and were radicalised in jail, according to investigators.
Prosecutors told the court that Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French city of Marseille less than a week after the shooting carrying a Kalashnikov of the kind used in the crime.
The jury also heard testimony last month from two French journalists who were held hostage by Islamic State in Syria and identified Nemmouche as one of their captors.
The journalists described him as deeply anti-Semitic, sadistic and full of hatred. Nemmouche faces separate charges in France for his role in keeping the reporters in captivity.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Mark Heinrich)