BRUSSELS – Mehdi Nemmouche, the suspect in the murders of three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last Saturday, was a "lone wolf" who acted on his own, according to evidence in the possession of Belgium's security services.
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However, question marks remain over how Nemmouche, who was known to western intelligence as a Jihadist returnee from the Syrian civil war in Syria, managed to evade arrest for a week.
Nemmouche, a French citizen, returned to his homeland a few months ago after spending over a year as a fighter for al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria. On March 18, the German government informed French intelligence that Nemmouche had returned to Europe via Frankfurt Airport.
Despite his year in Syria and the lengthy periods he had previously spent in French jails, where he became close to radical Muslims, Nemmouche wasn't brought in for questioning or subjected to any significant surveillance.
He is now under arrest in Paris, where the French hope to extract from him information on Syrian comrades who, like him, returned to Europe. He will eventually be extradited to Belgium for indictment in the murders of Emanuel and Mira Riva and a third victim at the Jewish Museum.
The Belgians are beginning to reconstruct Nemmouche's movements before and after the murder. It seems that he spent the night before at the home of a girlfriend outside Brussels and returned there afterwards.
He was recorded by CCTV cameras in the streets around the museum but no connection was made during the week's manhunt between the man in the videos and the Islamist whose identity was known to Western European intelligence services.
If he hadn't boarded a bus carrying the hand gun and AK-47 assault rifle allegedly used in the murders and then been subjected to a routine search, he probably would still be walking free.
The belated arrest exposed the failures of European governments in dealing with hundreds of young Muslim men returning from the fighting in Syria, equipped with experience in urban warfare and Al Qaida ideology, including the slow intelligence-sharing between different security forces.
French police Monday arrested four Jihadists who were involved in sending men to Syria. They don't seem to have a direct connection to Nemmouche and his alleged action, but the French government is trying to show that it has confronting the issue.
An international mission of Jewish leaders visited Brussels on Monday, meeting with Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and other senior Belgian politicians. The group, which was organized by the World Jewish Congress and headed by WJC President Ronald Lauder, was promised that a joint committee would be established with the WJC and the leadership of Belgium's Jewish community on fighting anti-Semitism and radical movements.
“What we don’t want is that a generation of young Jews grows up with fear,” said Lauder during his visit to the murder scene at the Jewish museum. Maurice Sosnowski, president of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium said that his community was in a quandary, since “we need to protect Jewish sites, but as a Belgian Jew I don’t want to live in a ghetto guarded permanently by police.”
In the evening a mass memorial service was held at Brussels' Grand Synagogue.