Brussels Jewish Museum attack: Jihadist arrested in Marseille 'claimed responsibility for shooting on video' says investigators

Mehdi Nemmouche, who fought in Syria, is suspected of killing four people

Paris

Fears of a western spill-over from Syrian civil war deepened today with the arrest of a young French jihadist suspected of carrying out the gun attack which killed three people at the Jewish museum in Brussels last weekend.

The suspect, Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, originally from Roubaix on the Franco-Belgian border, returned to Europe two months ago after spending more than a year with a radical Islamist group in Syria. He is also believed to have spent some time in Britain.

Although he has not admitted the Brussels shootings, French investigators say that there is a “strong body of evidence” linking him to the attack. He was arrested in Marseille on Friday after arriving on an overnight coach from Brussels.

A Kalachnikov automatic rifle with Islamist markings, a revolver and bullets  similar to those used in the shootings were found in his luggage during a routine drugs check by customs officers. They also found press cuttings on the museum murders and a film for a miniature camera in which he appears to admit the attack.

The Belgian federal prosecutor, Frédéric Van Leeuw said on Sunday that it appeared that the suspect had tried to film the killings but his camera had failed.

“In his bag there was large quantity of high-calibre munitions and a Kalachnikov carrying the markings of the Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant, a group operating in Syria,” Mr Van Leeuw said. “He also had a video tape in which he says he committed the Brussels murders. He has a right to be presumed innocent and I cannot guarantee absolutely, at this stage, that it his voice.”

Mr Nemmouche is a convicted criminal with a troubled childhood who became a Syrian djihadist soon after he left prison in France in January 2013. He is refusing to reply to questions from investigators.

Belgian investigators are preparing a European  arrest warrant and he is likely to be extradited to Belgium in the next couple of days.

If his involvement in the Brussels attack is proved, he will be the first European jihadist volunteer in Syria to have committed an act of terrorism on his return to Europe.  Over the last two years, a least 3,000 western-born muslims are believed to have joined the radical, islamist groups which are fighting both the Syrian regime and the more secular opposition movements.

Both the French and British governments have taken action in recent weeks to try to cut off the flow of would-be fighters and intercept potential terrorists on their return. Last week Mashudur Choudhury, 31, of Portsmouth, was convicted of engaging in preparation for terrorist acts after he returned to Britain from Syria in late October.  An American-born jihadist, so far unnamed,  carried out a suicide bombing in Syria eight days ago.

The French President François Hollande said on Sunday that Paris would redouble its efforts to prevent the Syrian conflict from bringing a new wave of anti-jewish or anti-western terrorist attacks to Europe. Mr Hollande dismissed suggestions that the French authorities should have intercepted Mr Nemmouche – a known djihadist, officially “under surveillance” – as soon as he returned from Syria in March.

The suspect re-entered Europe through Germany and then moved on to Belgium, Mr Hollande pointed out. Soon after he entered France, he was arrested. This suggests, however, that European cooperation in following ex-Syrian fighters is inadequate or non-existent.

“We are determined to track these jihadists and to ensure that they can do no harm when they return from a war which has nothing to do with them and nothing to do with us,” President Hollande said.

“The message to the jihadists is that we will fight them, we will fight them, we will fight them.”

Joel Rubinfeld, head of the Belgian League against Anti-semitism said the arrest of a suspect was a relief but that his Syrian djihadist profile was a source of deep anxiety. “It is crucial that countries who have citizens who have gone to Syria take all necessary measures to make sure this does not happen again,” he said.

Roger Cukierman, president of the Council of Jewish Organisations in France, said that it would be a “huge relief” if the suspect did prove to be the Brussels killer.

“While he was free, another attack was likely,” he said. “On the other hand, it seems that the worst fears of western governments are being realised. The European jihadists in Syria are a time bomb waiting to go off.”

French security sources said that Mr Nemmouche’s behaviour was “amateurish”, suggesting that he was acting alone rather than part of an organised network. To have carried guns in his luggage on a bus from Amsterdam to Marseille – a route under high surveillance for possible drugs couriers -  was not the action of a highly trained or well-organised individual, they said.

If evidence is found linking Mr Nemmouche to the Brussels killngs, there will inevitably be comparisons with Mohamed Merah, the  Toulouse scooter killer. Merah, 23, was also under surveillance when he killed seven people, including three Jewish children, in 2012.

Like Merah, Mr Nemmouche had a history of petty crime. He left prison in 2012 after serving six years for the robbery of a corner-store. Soon afterwards, he left France for Belgium, Britain and the Syria – implying that he may have been radicalised while in prison in France.

An unnamed woman described as Mr Nemmouche’s aunt told French TV: “We are very shocked, We heard about this on the television news, We didn’t expect anything like this.” She described Mr Nemmouche as a “nice, intelligent, educated” young man but “very quiet”  and “not someone  to confide easily in others”.

Mohamed Merah’s sister, Saoud, also slipped the net of security surveillance in France last month and left the country. She is believed to have travelled to the Turkish-Syrian border with her husband and four children.

There are believed to be as many as 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria. The great majority come from other Muslim nations but around  3,000 come from Europe, Canada, Australia and the United States.

France, with around 700, and Britain, with 400, are thought to provide the biggest contingents of European-born fighters.

There are also Belgians, Dutch, Scandinavians, Albanians and Bosnians.

Read more: 'Shootings have hallmarks of anti-Semitic attack'
Brussels gunman caught on film
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam