Security Snafu May Have Failed to Prevent Brussels Attack

French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur says that confusion over Mehdi Nammouche's name may have prevented authorities from keeping him under surveillance.

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Suspect in Brussels shooting Mehdi Nemmouche, on France 2.
Suspect in Brussels shooting Mehdi Nemmouche, on France 2.

The French Interior Ministry has denied that a mistake by French authorities enabled jihadist Mehdi Nemmouche to embark on a killing spree in a Jewish Museum in Brussels just over a week ago. Three people were killed and one critically wounded in the attack.

The ministry's denial came in response to an article in the French weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, which said that a mix-up may have prevented the authorities from keeping Nammouche under surveillance as a "danger to national security."

France has acknowledged that Nemmouche was spotted by German authorities in Frankfurt Airport on March 18, on his return from a year in Syria, and that his presence was reported to France.

However, according to the magazine, Nammouche then fell off the French radar, possibly because an "S" file – for a "suspect likely to endanger the security of the state" - was opened under the name Ammar Nemmouche, the young jihadist's uncle, instead of under his correct name.

An "S" designation would have put Nemmouche under automatic police surveillance. Without it, he was free to travel to Brussels, where he opened fire in the museum on May 24.

Nemmouche is now in French custody, after being apprehended during a routine drug-related search at Marseille bus station.

On Tuesday, a Paris court agreed to extend by his detention by 24 hours. Such an extension is rare in France, where it is applied only in cases where there is an imminent risk of attack or when the extension is regarded as necessary for international cooperation.

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