BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — The trial opens Thursday of a Frenchman accused of shooting four people dead at a Jewish museum in Brussels, allegedly the first Syria jihad veteran to stage a terror attack in Europe.
Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, faces a life sentence if convicted of the killings in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014, following his return from Syria’s battlefields.
Both Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer, a fellow Frenchman aged 30 who allegedly supplied the weapons, are to appear at 9 am (0800 GMT) in a Brussels criminal court.
Both have previously denied charges of “terrorist murder” for the anti-Semitic attack. Bendrer could also be jailed for life if convicted.
More than 100 witnesses are due to testify at the trial attended by the victims’ families and Jewish community leaders.
Heavy security will be deployed around the courthouse where the man accused of carrying out the 82-second shooting spree will be tried.
Firing a pistol and then an assault rifle, the gunman killed two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian receptionist at the Jewish Museum.
Nemmouche — born to a family of Algerian origin in the northern French town of Roubaix — was arrested six days after the attack in the southern French port city of Marseille after arriving on a bus from Brussels.
Investigators say he was carrying a handgun and an assault rifle used in the attack.
They say he fought with a jihadist faction in Syria from 2013 to 2014, where he met Najim Laachraoui, a member of the terror cell which went on to carry out suicide bombings in Brussels that killed 32 people in March 2016.
That same Brussels group 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.
Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, whose activities in Syria and Iraq lured thousands of jihadists from Europe.
Nemmouche and Bendrer, investigators say, met nearly a decade ago while in prison in southern France, where they were both described as “radicalized” inmates who tried to win others over.
Bendrer was arrested in Marseille seven months after the Jewish Museum attack and charged as Nemmouche’s accomplice.
Although he was jailed for five years in September by a French court for attempted extortion, he was transferred to Belgium for the trial.
Nemmouche is expected to face a separate trial in France for holding French journalists hostage in Syria.
The former hostages are expected to testify about Nemmouche’s character during the Brussels trial, despite the defense arguing that theirs is a separate case.
More than 300 Belgian and foreign journalists have registered to cover the museum attack trial which could last until the end of February.