Arrest over shooting rampage in Jewish Museum

Floral tributes outside the Brussels museum where the shootings took place. Picture: Reuters
Floral tributes outside the Brussels museum where the shootings took place. Picture: Reuters
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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.

Mehdi Nemmouche was detained on Friday after a random check at a bus terminal in the city of Marseille found 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 said 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, Mr Molins said.

“During his last stay in jail, he was noticed for extremist [Islamist] proselytism,” Mr 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 added 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 24 May 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 walking out.

After the arrest was announced, President Francois Hollande said that 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 said.

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, Mr Molins said, adding that the suspect had made no comment on the accusations.

Belgian federal magistrate Erik Van der Sypt said that Belgium would seek Nemmouche’s extradition from France.

About half of Belgium’s 42,000-strong Jewish population live in Brussels.