Two young Israeli women will Thursday face for the first time the alleged killer of their parents when they attend his trial for the Jewish museum attack in Brussels.
The daughters of murdered Israeli couple Miriam and Emmanuel Riva will be in the Brussels courtroom with Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche, the accused gunman in the May 24, 2014 attack.
Only 15 and 16 at the time of the shootings, the pair traveled from Tel Aviv with an aunt and uncle to testify about the couple who were married 18 years when they died.
The experience will be “extremely difficult” for Ayelet and her older sister Shira, said one of their Belgian lawyers, David Ramet.
“They will come face to face with their parents’ murderer, whom they will be able to look at, and be just meters from the weapon that killed them,” Ramet told AFP.
On display in the courtroom are the pistol used to kill the Rivas and other evidence against Nemmouche, 33, who allegedly killed two others in the anti-Semitic attack.
Both Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer, a fellow Frenchman aged 30 who allegedly supplied the weapons, face life in prison if convicted of charges of terrorist murder.
Investigators say Nemmouche was the gunman and attacked shortly after returning from Syria, where he had allegedly fought on behalf of jihadist groups.
Both deny the charges against them.
Nemmouche’s lawyers said “he is not the killer” and was “trapped.”
The murders, his lawyers said, did not result from an attack by the Islamic State group, but were “a targeted execution” aimed at agents of Israeli intelligence, Mossad.
They said the Israeli couple were in fact Mossad agents murdered by a man who had hunted them down.
‘Wrong place, wrong time’
The claims have angered lawyers, who say they amount to blaming the victims.
“It’s an absolute scandal,” said Marc Libert, another lawyer for the family. “I forbid criticism of Mr. and Mrs. Riva.”
Miriam Riva, who was 53, was an accountant for the Mossad who had retired a few months before her murder.
Judges investigating the case told the trial she did not take part in field operations. They also quoted a Belgian intelligence memo saying links to the Mossad were unfounded.
Emmanuel Riva, who was 54, was an economist for Nativ, an agency serving the office of the Israeli prime minister to welcome Jews from the former Soviet bloc countries.
On their curriculum vitae “there was nothing to hide,” Ramet said.
He referred to their activities in Israel and the time they lived in Berlin from 2007-2012, when Emmanuel Riva worked at Israel’s diplomatic mission.
Ramet said the Rivas had been enjoying a spring day and the music from a jazz festival.
“They were unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Ramet said.
The couple were killed when a gunman, caught on security cameras, shot them in the back of the head inside the entrance hall of the museum.
Since the trial opened January 10, only one close relative has come to testify: the mother of Alexandre Strens, the young Belgian employee who was fatally wounded and died two weeks later.
“I live like a mother whose wings were cut,” his 68-year-old mother Annie Adam told the judges and 12-person jury on January 18.