BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — Jurors in the trial of a suspected jihadi charged with terrorism offenses over the 2014 killing of four people at Belgium’s Jewish museum are still considering their verdict.
The 12-member jury had been due to rule Thursday morning on whether Mehdi Nemmouche is guilty of four counts of “terrorist murder.” But court officials say a verdict is unlikely before early Thursday evening.
Nemmouche, 33, faces a life sentence if convicted of the attack in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014, following his return from Syria’s battlefields.
If there is a guilty verdict, sentencing would take place on Friday.
Nemmouche is accused of killing the four victims in cold blood in less than 90 seconds, but he denies the accusation and told the court on Tuesday he was “tricked.”
This referred to arguments made by defense lawyers that Nemmouche was not to blame for the cold-blooded slaughter, but that he was caught up in some kind of plot involving the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
The legal argument centers around Israeli couple Miriam and Emmanuel Riva, the first two of the four people killed in the attack.
A young Belgian employee, Alexandre Strens, and French volunteer Dominique Sabrier were also murdered.
According to the defense, the museum shooting was not the work of the Islamic State group but a “targeted execution” aimed at Mossad agents.
The defense says the Israeli couple who were killed were in fact Mossad agents murdered by another man who had hunted them down.
The Riva family’s lawyers have furiously rejected the theory and said attempts to pass off the tourists as secret agents was “an absolute scandal.”
“Let’s stop the joking,” prosecutor Yves Moreau told the court on Tuesday, describing the arguments presented by the defense as “complete nonsense” against compelling evidence.
Miriam Riva worked for Mossad as an accountant, not an operational agent, said the investigating judges who traveled to Israel during their investigation.
Yohan Benizri, the head of Belgium’s Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations, denounced what he called a “nauseating conspiracy theory.”
Nemmouche is accused with Nacer Bendrer, 30, who is suspected of supplying the weapons for the attack.
The investigation showed that the two men had dozens of telephone conversations in April 2014, when Nemmouche allegedly prepared the attack.
Six days after the massacre, Nemmouche was arrested in the French city of Marseille in possession of a revolver and a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle.
At the trial, Bendrer admitted that Nemmouche had asked him for a Kalashnikov when he came to Brussels in early April, but claimed he never delivered it.
Among other personal effects, Nemmouche upon arrest carried a nylon jacket with gunshot residue, as well as a computer in which investigators found six videos claiming the attack with an off-camera voiceover thought to be Nemmouche.
In total, the prosecution said it had identified 23 pieces of evidence pointing to Nemmouche, who also physically resembles the shooter seen on the museum’s surveillance video.
“We are both deeply convinced that the two accused did indeed commit these acts,” one of the two prosecutors said in their indictment.
The prosecutors say the attack was the first carried out in Europe by a jihadist returning from fighting in Syria.
The Brussels killings came 18 months before the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks which left 130 dead.