Mehdi Nemmouche found guilty of Brussels Jewish museum murders

Mehdi Nemmouche found guilty of Brussels Jewish museum murders

Jury takes two days to come to the conclusion that radicalised ISIS supporter was perpetrator of 2014 attack

Mehdi Nemmouche
Mehdi Nemmouche

It took the jury two days to deliberate in the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche, who has just been found guilty of the Brussels Jewish museum terror attack from 2014. Why did it take them so long? What had his lawyers argued? And just how close a call was it?

The thrust of the defence argument lay in the acknowledged identity of one of the four victims, Israeli Miriam Riva.

Israeli authorities said she worked for Mossad, the country’s well-known foreign intelligence service, but as an accountant. Miriam and her husband Emmanuel, also an accountant, were both killed within an 82-second burst of fire into the building, along with a museum receptionist and a volunteer.

French journalists testified that Nemmouche had been one of their ISIS captors and torturers in Syria, and his role in Syria will be considered by another jury later this year, but in the Brussels trial, for which he has since been held in solitary confinement, the accused told the court that he had been “tricked” or “trapped”.

He has said little else. Throughout the two-month trial, Nemmouche has been tight-lipped, as his lawyers argued that said this was no random terror act but a targeted hit on Mossad agents, orchestrated by someone using their client as fall guy.

Jewish people at the museum’s entrance the day after the killings

The Rivas’ family, Belgian prosecutors and Jewish community leaders quickly declared the idea to be a load of rubbish. Yohan Benizri of Belgium’s Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organisations called it a “nauseating conspiracy theory”.

The trial had already established that Nemmouche had returned from Syria as a radicalised ISIS fighter; was deeply antisemitic, according to his captors; had sought to obtain a high-powered rifle from a fellow Frenchman before the attack; and was arrested with a computer containing six videos of him claiming responsibility.

It seemed an open-and-shut case. He even looked like the shooter on CCTV. So why did the jury – holed up in a secret Brussels hotel – take two days to deliberate? As with so many conspiracies when it comes to Israel, the Mossad name features.

At the time, the Rivas were reported as tourists, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the attack was “the result of constant incitement against the State of Israel by various elements in the Middle East and in Europe itself”.

But as the investigating judges were later told when they visited Israel, Miriam Riva in fact worked for Mossad (as an accountant, they said). Similarly, Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the couple had recently returned from Germany on “government service,” which some say is a euphemism.

That was the cue for Nemmouche’s lawyer Sebastien Courtoy to argue that both Rivas were spies and that they had been assassinated by an unknown shooter, with Nemmouche framed. Courtoy told the court that Syrian or Lebanese security officials were behind the “targeted execution of Mossad agents”.

It was an argument based on a story most Hollywood producers would have dismissed as too unrealistic, but for two days, the jury churned it over.

Courtoy, a 44-year old legal radical, gave them food for thought. He said the defence team had “so much” evidence to support his client’s conviction that they had a job deciding what to leave out. He reminded the jury that no witness had recognised Nemmouche as the shooter, “not even someone from five metres”.

The prosecution had in fact produced two witnesses, but Courtoy was unimpressed. “A lady that comes here five years later to tell you it’s him after she saw him for five seconds, and a man who has seen the white stripes of [Nemmouche’s] sneakers from more than 20 metres while being astigmatic? Let’s move on.”

Addressing the video admissions obtained on Nemmouche’s computer, Courtoy reminded the jury that his client was French and therefore fluent, but the voice heard in the videos is “handicapped of syntax, with eight mistakes in five minutes”.

Then Courtoy addressed the Rivas, particularly Emmanuel. “I went onto the site of Benjamin Netanyahu who said he [Emmanuel] was a great patriot,” said Courtoy. “Why? Because he was a great accountant?”

Noting that the Rivas had both been shot “with precision” in the neck, Courtoy suggested to the court that if this were terrorism, the shooter would have continued shooting everyone, yet he left after less than a minute and a half. It was a hit, he said. Mossad was the target and Nemmouche was “the portrait”.

Nonsense, said the prosecutor. But the jury considered it. Having been given 56 questions to help them reach a verdict, they finally voted in secret: Guilty. By what margin, we do not know. But this verdict cannot be appealed.

If Nemmouche had information that could have revealed “the truth” about who really killed this Israeli couple in their 50s at a Jewish museum in Brussels in the spring of 20014, as he and his lawyer suggested, the time to reveal it has now past.

read more: