PARIS – The idea that Mehdi Nemmouche, the Islamist who allegedly murdered four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum on May 24, was a “lone wolf ” is being rejected by the European Union, according to the Beirut-based As-Safir newspaper.
After discarding an Israeli hypothesis that the attack was a targeted assassination, since the Israeli couple who were killed worked in the past for the country’s intelligence services, the newspaper quoted EU counterterrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove as saying that “there is no chance the terrorist acted alone.”
The attack serves as a remainder that jihadists in Syria represent a serious threat against the West, he said. Nemmouche is believed to have ties with jihadist elements in Syria.
These statements contradict ones by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Paris Prosecutor François Molins on Sunday when they announced Nemmouche’s arrest two days earlier in Marseilles.
According to them, the suspect was a “lone wolf,” radicalized during his previous imprisonment in France for minor criminal offenses.
French judicial sources refused to comment Thursday on the new assertion.
Nemmouche, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, on Thursday opposed his extradition to Belgium. A day earlier, his lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep, told the press his client “wishes to be judged in France, since he is French and is in France.”
To support his demand, the lawyer said that Nemmouche had been arrested in France for illegal transport in an abandoned car of arms stolen in Belgium. The lawyer promised to fight “till the end” to prove his client is innocent.
On Thursday, a court in Versailles examined the Belgian extradition demand.
Asked by the court if he agrees to the extradition, the suspect answered: “No... I stand by my lawyer.”
The court scheduled a hearing on the issue for June 12, to allow the defense team to prepare its case.
The defense can appeal to the French supreme court (the Cour de Cassation), and, as a last resort, to the European Court of Human Rights.
But according to judicial sources, the only effect this could have is to delay the process for a month or two.
The suspect was transferred from his cell at a prison just outside Paris to Bois-D’Arcy Prison in the nearby Yvelines region.
Also on Thursday, Austrian authorities said they had arrested a man suspected of recruiting Muslims to fight with the rebels in Syria, a provincial state prosecutor said.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Graz, Austria’s second-largest city, said the suspect was detained two days ago following raids on buildings belonging to the city’s Muslim community.
“He is suspected of radicalizing people and recruiting them to fight in Syria,” he said, adding that four of them had been killed in Syria. He declined to give further details about the suspect.
The Austrian Profil news magazine said the suspect was a 41-year-old imam of Chechen origin, whose recruits had joined the al-Qaida- affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria.
Françoise Scatigna contributed to this report.