France had information that could have led to the arrest of suspected gunman Mehdi Nemmouche before he was able to reach Brussels and attack the Jewish museum there, the French Novelle Observateur newspaper said Tuesday.
According to the report, when Nemmouche returned from Syria to Europe via Asia, he passed through Frankfurt. The German authorities identified the newly returned radicalized jihadist as a security threat and alerted his native France on March 18 that the 29-year-old might be dangerous.
However, he was allowed into France without being arrested. Authorities suspect he then made his way to Brussels to carry out the attack that left two Israeli tourists, a Belgian and a French volunteer at the museum dead.
The paper suggested Nemmouche was not arrested because the warrant against him was mistakenly issued by the French authorities under the name of his uncle, Amar Nemmouche — a claim the French Interior Ministry has denied.
The European authorities reportedly knew Nemmouche had spent over a year in Syria and joined the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorist group.
However, he was able to travel through France freely until he was finally arrested in Marseille following a routine customs inspection.
Nemmouche was stopped on May 29 by customs officers performing routine checks and declined to open his bag, leading the customs officers to evacuate the bus and check the contents of every bag aboard. The weapons found in his luggage “were arms of the same type used on May 24 in Brussels,” the French news agency AFP reported.
Four people — an Israeli couple, a French woman and a Belgian man — were killed in the attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in central Brussels.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked French President Francois Hollande for his country’s capture of the alleged gunman.
In a telephone conversation, Netanyahu also thanked Hollande for his “strong and consistent stand against anti-Semitism,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Meanwhile Tuesday, in an extraordinary move, a Paris court agreed to a French prosecutor’s request to extend Nemmouche’s detention by 24 hours, a rare measure in France that can be applied only in cases where there is an “imminent” risk of attack, France 24 reported.
JTA contributed to this report.