BRUSSELS —The trial of Mehdi Nemmouche, a 33-year-old French jihadist of Algerian descent who is accused of carrying out an anti-Semitivc terror attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014, opened Monday in a criminal court of the Belgian capital.
Four people were killed in the attack : a couple of Israeli tourists, Myriam and Emmanuel Riva, Dominique Sabrier, a French volunteer of the museum and Elexandre Strens, a museum employee.
On Monday, the twelve members of the popular jury to judge Mehdi Nemmouche, were due to be named before the real start of the trial on January 10.
A second Frenchman, Nacer Bendrer, who allegedly supplied the weapons used in the attack, also stands on trial.
The two are facing charges of “terrorist murder,” which carries a life sentence.
More than 100 witnesses are to testify at the trial, which will be attended by the victims’ families and Jewish community leaders.
The deadly attack, which lasted only 82 seconds, took place on a Saturday afternoon, on 24 May 2014, in a shooting that shocked Belgium and the world.
Firing a pistol and then an assault rifle, the gunman killed the four people.
Nemmouche — born to a family of Algerian origin in the northern French town of Roubaix but immediately put into foster care — was arrested six days after the attack.
Six days after the Brussels attack, Nemmouche was arrested in Marseille, in southern France , alighting from a bus from Brussels. Authorities said he had a Kalashnikov and a pistol in his possession, identical to the weapons used in the museum attack. The suspect also had in his bag a GoPro camera, a large quantity of ammunition and was carrying a selection of newspaper articles about the museum killings, which were filmed by the building’s surveillance video cameras.
Bendrer, who was charged as an accomplice in February 2015, two months after his arrest near Marseille with weapons. He as sentenced in September to five years in prison for attempted extortion in a separate case in Marseille.
The two men were extradited to Belgium to stand trial.
Prior to the attack, Nemmouche fought in Syria as part of the Islamic State terror group and is also accused of acting as a jailer of kidnapped French journalists.
Investigators say Nemmouche was in Syria from 2013 to 2014 which was where he met Najim Laachraoui, a member of the gang which went on to carry out the Brussels suicide bombings 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 killed and hundreds more wounded.
Nemmouche is said to have voiced admiration for Mohamed Merah, who murdered a Jewish father, his two children and an eight-year-old girl in a 2012 attack on a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse.
Yohan Benizri, president of CCOJB, the umbrealla representative group of Jewish organizations in Begium, said he feared Nemmouche’s lawyers Sebastien Courtoy and Henri Laquay will try to “play down” the anti-Semitic nature of the museum attack.
The defense team, Benizri added, may even try to “twist” the facts by repeating “totally far-fetched” claims that Israel’s intelligence service Mossad staged the attack.
“We don’t want Mehdi Nemmouche to become a star. He is a terrorist,” said Benizri.
Courtoy, a controversial lawyer who defended in the past French antisemitic comedian Dieudonne, repeatedly convicted in France for racial insult, incitement to hatred and apology of terrorism, himself suggested Israeli agents could be behind the attack when he spoke at a pre-trial hearing on December 20.