Flowers are seen near an Israeli flag at the entrance of
the Jewish Museum in Brussels. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A 29-year-old Frenchman believed to have returned
recently from fighting with Islamist militant rebels in Syria
has been arrested for the killing of three people at Brussels'
Jewish Museum last month, prosecutors say.
Mehdi Nemmouche was detained on Friday (local time) after a
random check at a bus terminal in the French city of
Marseille showed he was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle, another
gun and ammunition similar to those used in the shooting last
weekend, French and Belgian prosecutors said.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters Nemmouche had
been carrying a video where a voice resembling his own claims
responsibility for the shootings.
European governments have become increasingly worried that
citizens going to fight in Syria will import Islamist
militancy on their return.
Nemmouche served five jail terms in France before spending
most of 2013 in Syria, Molins said.
"During his last stay in jail, he was noticed for extremist
(Islamist) proselytism," Molins said. "He spent over a year
in Syria, where he seems to have joined the ranks of
combatant groups, jihadist terrorist groups."
Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw told a separate
news conference that the Kalashnikov had been wrapped in a
flag with the inscriptions of the Islamic State of Iraq and
the Levant (ISIL), an ultra-conservative militant group
reconstituted from an earlier incarnation of al Qaeda and
active in Syria and Iraq.
An Israeli couple and a French woman were killed when a man
entered the Jewish Museum in the centre of the Belgian
capital on May 24 and opened fire with a Kalashnikov. A
Belgian man remains in critical condition in hospital.
A 30-second video clip from the museum's security cameras
released by police showed a man wearing a dark cap,
sunglasses and blue jacket entering the building, taking a
rifle out of a bag and shooting into a room before calmly
The attack evoked memories of the killing of four Jews in
2012 at a school in France by Mohamed Merah, a gunman
inspired by al Qaeda.
After Nemmouche's arrest was announced, President Francois
Hollande said France was determined to do all it could to
prevent radicalised youths carrying out attacks.
"We will monitor those jihadists and make sure that, when
they come back from a fight that is not theirs, and that is
definitely not ours, ... they cannot do any harm," he told
reporters. "We will fight them, we will fight them, and we
will fight them."
He said about 700 French jihadists were either in Syria or
had returned to France after fighting there, a major concern
in a country that is home to both Europe's largest Jewish and
Muslim communities, the latter mostly of North African
France announced new policies in April that aimed to prevent
young Muslims becoming radicalised and to stop French
citizens joining the Syrian civil war.
Nemmouche is being held on suspicion of murder, attempted
murder and possession of weapons, all in the context of
terrorist activity, Molins said, adding that the suspect had
made no comment on the accusations.
Soulifa Badaoui, who has worked as a lawyer for Nemmouche the
suspect in the past, told BFM TV that he was "not observant
at all" at the time.
Belgian federal magistrate Erik Van der Sypt told Reuters
that Belgium would seek Nemmouche's extradition from France.
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor urged more
action to stop hate crimes.
"...For too long, authorities in Europe have acted speedily
after the fact," he said in a statement. "It is now time for
all ... to make the prevention of these vicious crimes a top
Security around all Jewish institutions in Belgium was raised
to the highest level after the shooting, and French
authorities also stepped up security after two Jews were
attacked the same day as they left a synagogue in a Paris
suburb wearing traditional Jewish clothing.
About half of Belgium's 42,000-strong Jewish population live
in Brussels. France's Jewish community is the largest in
Europe at some 550,000, though violence such as the 2012
school murders and economic woes have prompted an increase in
emigration to Israel or elsewhere.