Europe

Brussels Nemmouche trial: Suspect 'was my jailer and torturer'

A file picture released on June 1, 2014 shows Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old suspected gunman who shot dead four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels, on August 15, 2005 Image copyright AFP
Image caption This file photo of Nemmouche was released in 2014

Two French journalists who were held by Islamic State militants in Syria have given evidence against a man accused of murdering four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014.

"I've absolutely no doubt that Mehdi Nemmouche, who is here now, was my jailer and torturer in Syria. I knew him as Abou Omar," said Nicolas Hénin.

Ex-captive Didier François agreed.

The defendant, 33, denies murdering an Israeli couple, a local worker and a French volunteer at the museum.

While his lawyer accepts that he travelled to Syria, he argues that case will be tried later in a French court and has nothing to do with the Jewish Museum attack.

What the witnesses said

The trial began last month, but it heard for the first time on Thursday from Nicolas Hénin and Didier François, who were held by IS militants in an eye hospital in Aleppo in June 2013 and freed in April 2014, a month before the Jewish Museum attack.

Of the 23 foreign hostages held by IS, eight were in Aleppo, and Mr François told the court that their captors were all part of a structure, and were involved in organising the Paris and Brussels bombings in November 2015 and March 2016.

He said Paris bomb-maker and Brussels airport suicide bomber Najim Laachraoui was one of the guards.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nemmouche refused to tell prosecutors if he had ever met the two journalists (file sketch)

Mr Hénin told the court that Mehdi Nemmouche was "sadistic, playful and narcissistic"; he was "filled with hate and especially towards Jews and Shia Muslims".

He said Nemmouche admired Toulouse jihadist Mohamed Merah, who murdered seven people including three Jewish children in 2012, and he loathed Shia Muslims.

Just like Merah, he dreamed of grabbing a Jewish girl by the hair and shooting her dead, Didier François told the court. He said the defendant had also bragged of raping women in front of their husbands and killing their children, during IS raids in 2013.

"We were taken out of our cell for interrogation then put back in a cell next door to the torture room. He was wearing combat dress and we came up against him on several occasions," said Mr François.

Both former captives said they had been physically abused by Mehdi Nemmouche.

Mr François said he had been hit 40 times with a club, while Mr Hénin said he had been tortured. He told the court the defendant would hit them during their blindfolded visits to the toilets.

Didier François said he had no doubt that Mehdi Nemmouche had tortured Syrian prisoners too. "We heard his voice, we recognised his voice," he said.

Asked by the federal prosecutor if he had ever met the two journalists, the defendant refused to answer.

The trial continues.

What happened in Brussels in May 2014?

On 24 May 2014, a lone gunman entered the lobby of the Jewish Museum in Brussels. He opened fire on those inside and fled within a couple of minutes. Four people died in the attack in the Sablon area of the city:

  • Emmanuel Riva, 54, and Myriam Riva, 53, from Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Dominique Sabrier, 66, French volunteer at museum
  • Alexandre Strens, 25, worked at museum's reception

French-born Medhi Nemmouche was arrested carrying two guns six days later in Marseille in southern France.

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