Jury chosen for trial of Brussels Jewish museum terrorist

Jury chosen for trial of jihadist Mehdi Nemmouche, suspected of shooting dead four people in attack on Brussels Jewish museum.

Ben Ariel,

Entrance of the Jewish Museum in Brussels
Entrance of the Jewish Museum in Brussels

French jihadist Mehdi Nemmouche appeared in court on Monday as a jury was chosen for his trial for shooting dead four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in 2014, AFP reports.

Nemmouche, the first jihadist to return from Syria's battlefields to allegedly launch an attack on European soil, faces a life sentence if convicted of the killings in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014.

Nemmouche, 33, and Nacer Bendrer, a fellow Frenchman aged 30 who allegedly supplied the weapons, deny charges of "terrorist murder".

Wearing a blue sweater, Nemmouche spoke only to confirm his identity as the hearing began on Monday morning.

"Nemmouche, Mehdi, 33 years old, unemployed," he told the criminal court in Brussels before it selected a jury of eight men and four women for the trial, which opens 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.

More than 300 Belgian and foreign journalists have registered to cover the proceedings which could last until the end of February, according to AFP.

On May 24, 2014, a gunman opened fire in the entrance hall of the museum in the center of the Belgian capital, killing two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian museum receptionist.

Nemmouche was arrested six days later in the southern French port city of Marseille and sent to Belgium two months later, where he faces trial at an unspecified date in the future.

After his arrest, reports surfaced that Nemmouche had been planning to launch a terror attack along the Champs Elysees, the Fifth Avenue of Paris, on France’s biggest national holiday.

In 2016, a Belgian court backed the eventual extradition of Nemmouche to France, where he is suspected of being among the captors of four French journalists who were kept hostage in Syria.

Before the attack on the Jewish museum, Nemmouche is said to have fought in Syria as part of a jihadist faction.

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 jihadists to carry out the Paris massacre of November 13, 2015, in which 130 people were murdered and hundreds more wounded.

Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

Nemmouche and Bendrer, investigators say, met nearly a decade ago while in prison in southern France, where they were both described as "radicalized" 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.