Prosecutors slam Jewish museum suspect’s ‘indecent’ silence at trial
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Prosecutors slam Jewish museum suspect’s ‘indecent’ silence at trial

Belgian prosecution says overwhelming evidence points to Mehdi Nemmouche as perpetrator of attack that killed four, as defense blames Israeli conspiracy for shooting

A court sketch made on January 10, 2019, shows Mehdi Nemmouche (C), accused of the terrorist attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014, during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace. (Benoit Peyruco/AFP)
A court sketch made on January 10, 2019, shows Mehdi Nemmouche (C), accused of the terrorist attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014, during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace. (Benoit Peyruco/AFP)

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — Prosecutors on Monday poured scorn on the “indecent” silence of a Frenchman accused of shooting dead four people at the Jewish museum in Brussels as they began their closing summary.

French national Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, could face life in prison if found guilty of the attack on May 24, 2014.

The prosecution said Nemmouche attacked the museum shortly after returning from Syria, where he had allegedly fought on behalf of jihadist groups, and rejected defense lawyers’ claims of a conspiracy against him.

Six days after the attack, he was arrested in the southern French port city of Marseille. Co-defendant Nacer Bendrer, a petty criminal aged 30 from Marseille, is accused of supplying weapons.

Aside from denying his guilt over the course of a seven-week trial which began on January 10, Nemmouche has said almost nothing in the dock since day one.

‘Indecent, provocative’

Prosecutor Bernard Michel dubbed his reticence to speak a “silence as indecent as it is provocative” in the start of closing arguments.

Michel said that silence was like an echo of the “heavy, questioning, shocked silence of incomprehension” which followed the assault.

“In a 27-year career I have rarely seen so many elements brought against a suspect who continues to deny” guilt, Michel said in listing what he said were “23 elements” of evidence condemning the defendant.

They included, he said, DNA samples or fingerprints on weapons and clothing as well as videos claiming responsibility whose audio appeared to include his voice.

Items of evidence are presented at the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche at the Justice Palace in Brussels, Thursday, February 7, 2019. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

“There’s a limit to happenstance,” added Michel, saying Nemmouche had left more than “crumbs,” but rather, “bricks” behind him in a poor attempt to cover his tracks.

The prosecution accuses Nemmouche of carrying out the first attack 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.

A verdict is expected early next month in a jury trial with no right of appeal.

The prosecutors said the evidence suggests there is “little room for doubt” as to Nemmouche’s guilt, and castigated defense lawyers’ attempts to show there is a “conspiracy” against the accused.

Defense counsel has suggested investigators doctored closed circuit television footage to muddy the case against him.

“To try to get people to believe that this man is innocent, defense counsel does not hesitate to sully and trample on people’s reputation and honor — it’s shocking and scandalous,” prosecutor Yves Moreau told the court.

A revolver and a Kalashnikov were found on Nemmouche, a petty criminal radicalized in prison, when he was arrested.

The defense claims the Brussels assault was not inspired by the Islamic State group. Their theory is that the attack was a hit by the Israeli intelligence service targeting an Israeli couple who were among the victims.

Defense counsel Sebastien Courtoy and Henri Laquay say they will expound on that theme in their closing on Thursday.

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