Four French reporters, held captive by ISIS in Syria and recently freed, identified suspected Brussels Jewish Museum shooter Mehdi Nemmouche as one of their captors – and the revelation is raising serious concerns about European jihadists.
Over the weekend, former Le Point magazine journalist Nicolas Henin wrote for the online edition that Nemmouche held him from July to December 2013. He is the suspected gunman who shot and killed four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum on May 24 of this year. He has been extradited to Belgium to stand trial.
Henin wrote that Nemmouche was a violent jailer, and much feared. His testimony, as well as that of three other journalists held with him, is cause for alarm.
“This is the first successful terrorist act on European soil linked to Syrian networks,” terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard told AFP. With some 950 French citizens linked to jihad and an estimated 3,200 Europeans who are fighting or have fought in Syria and Iraq, it may not be the last.
“It’s a mass phenomenon which is increasingly growing,” said Louis Caprioli, who headed the anti-terror wing of France’s domestic intelligence agency between 1998 and 2004. Returning jihadists are battle-hardened, and have the capacity to wreak havoc and spread terror at home.
“The secret services know it is just a question of time,” said Brisard. In Britain, for example, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed some 500 people had left to fight, of which roughly 250 had thus far returned. “We know from past experience in Afghanistan and Chechnya that one person out of nine returning from these zones is engaged in violent or terrorist acts.”
According to Henin, “When Nemmouche was not singing, he was torturing. He was part of a small group of Frenchmen whose visits would terrify the 50-odd Syrian prisoners held in the cells nearby. Every night the blows would start raining down in the room, where I was also interrogated. The torture lasted all night, until dawn prayers.”
Henin identified Nemmouche publicly after a report in Le Monde newspaper named him and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed French intelligence services had corroborating evidence supporting the claim.
But simply naming Nemmouche was not the only frightening revelation the freed reporters made. According to their testimony, Nemmouche was planning “at least one [terror] attack in France, in the heart of Paris.”
Referring to the March 2012 shooting rampage in southwestern France that left seven dead and five injured, they said it “would be at least five times bigger than the attacks in Toulouse.” The attack was allegedly planned for July 14, or Bastille Day, the French holiday which commemorates the beginning of the Revolution. The target: Paris’s Champs Elysees Boulevard, where festivities take place.
Nemmouche is set to face a judge in Brussels on September 12, who will decide whether or not to extend his preventive detention.