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TERRORISM

The troubled French teen turned jihadist who became a case study for radicalisation

Mehdi Nemmouche has been convicted of carrying out Europe's first terror attack by an Islamist fighter returning from the war in Syria. But his journey from a French foster home to a Brussels court began not in a Middle Eastern desert but in a run-down industrial town in northern France.

The troubled French teen turned jihadist who became a case study for radicalisation
A court sketch made on January 10, 2019 shows Mehdi Nemmouche. AFP

But his journey from a French foster home to a Brussels court began not in a Middle Eastern desert but in a run-down industrial town.

On Thursday, after a two-month trial in the Belgian capital, 12 jurors found the 33-year-old guilty of the four anti-Semitic murders during a shooting spree at Belgium's Jewish Museum on May 24, 2014.

He faces life in prison and is expected to be sentenced on Monday at the earliest.

Nemmouche, an athletic-looking man with a trimmed beard, told the court in his final testimony this week that he had been “tricked”.

He seemed to refer to arguments made by his lawyers that he was not to blame for the murders and had been caught up in some kind of plot targeting the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

Separately, he is also accused of acting as the jailer of four French journalists taken hostage by jihadists in Aleppo in 2013.

Nemmouche is already a case study in the radicalisation of some young European Muslims.

Belgium and France, in particular, fear the defeat of groups like the Islamic State in Syria will send more angry young men homewards.

But Nemmouche seems to have been on a radical path long before he set off, in early 2013, for the so-called “caliphate” on the Euphrates.

The investigation into the May 2014 massacre in the museum has pieced together elements of his background.

(AFP)

Troubled and angry youth
 
Nemmouche was born on April 17, 1985, in the northern French town of Roubaix, to a family of Algerian origin.
 
He never knew his father and his mother was judged not “capable” of raising him, investigators say.
 
Aged only three months, he was moved to a foster family in the northern industrial city of Lille, where he would stay — off and on — until he was 16.
 
But his upbringing was not stable. He would make difficult trips to stay with his grandparents, and sometimes to care homes or a Parisian orphanage.
 
His foster parents, in documents seen by AFP, describe him as an “angry” youth, “capable of the worst as well as the most kindly” acts.
 
He committed his first known crime at 13, then at 16, he spent three weeks in a juvenile prison for a hold-up with an air pistol after being convicted by a children's court.
 
His criminal record grew ever longer in his late teens, with traffic offences and muggings, and his grandmother lost track of him after his second jail term.
 
In 2007, aged 22, he headed to Provence in southern France after gaining a vocational qualification as an electrician, but soon fell back into trouble.
 
“What an enormous waste,” his former lawyer Soulifa Badaoui said after the museum murders, lamenting the fact that the authorities had not helped Nemmouche to integrate.
 
“No one knew what to do with an intelligent, lively young man who wanted to get out, become an ordinary French citizen,” she told AFP.
 
(AFP)

'Sadistic and narcissistic'
 
Between December 2007 and December 2012, he spent five years in custody — and investigators believe this is when his ideas hardened.
 
In prison, he was known as an “extremist proselytiser” who tried to organise group prayer and spoke of jihad and the 1995 “genocide of Muslims in Bosnia”.
 
This linked him to the “Roubaix gang” — French Islamists who returned from the Bosnian war and carried out robberies to fund Al-Qaeda, some of whom he knew.
 
When his grandmother saw him in Tourcoing in December 2012, he had a long beard and was praying daily, something she had not seen before.
 
Less is known about his experiences in Syria, but three former French hostages have identified him as their “strict and violent” overseer.
 
They say he did not hide his admiration for Mohammed Merah, who murdered three French soldiers, a Jewish teacher and three young children in 2012.
 
Former hostage Nicolas Henin told the trial last month that he had “absolutely no doubt” that Nemmouche was his jailer and torturer in Syria.
 
Henin described him as a “sadistic, playful and narcissistic” man. 
 
Nemmouche, who was extradited to Belgium over the museum shooting after being arrested in Marseille, will go on trial in France over the hostages at a later date.
 
Held under tight security at a prison in Leuze-en-Hainaut, his lawyers describe him as a man of “steely will” who was bearing up well under the pressure of incarceration.
 
“When he greets me with a warm, relaxed smile it's as if we're not in prison,” defence counsel Francis Vuillemin told AFP. “The walls seem to slip off him.”

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CRIME

Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim’s x-ray

A Paris court on Wednesday convicted a surgeon for trying to sell an X-Ray image of a wounded arm of a woman who survived the 2015 terror attacks in the French capital.

Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim's x-ray

Found guilty of violating medical secrecy, renowned orthopaedic surgeon Emmanuel Masmejean must pay the victim €5,000 or face two months in jail, judges ordered.

Masmejean, who works at the Georges-Pompidou hospital in western Paris, posted the image of a young woman’s forearm penetrated by a Kalashnikov bullet on marketplace Opensea in late 2021.

The site allows its roughly 20 million users to trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – certificates of ownership of an artwork that are stored on a “blockchain” similar to the technology used to secure cryptocurrencies.

In the file’s description, the surgeon wrote that the young woman he had operated on had “lost her boyfriend in the attack” on the Bataclan concert hall, the focus of the November 2015 gun and bomb assault in which jihadists killed 130 people.

The X-Ray image never sold for the asking price of $2,776, and was removed from Opensea after being revealed by investigative website Mediapart in January.

Masmejean claimed at a September court hearing that he had been carrying out an “experiment” by putting a “striking and historic medical image” online – while acknowledging that it had been “idiocy, a mistake, a blunder”.

The court did not find him guilty of two further charges of abuse of personal data and illegally revealing harmful personal information.

Nor was he barred from practicing as prosecutors had urged, with the lead judge saying it would be “disproportionate and inappropriate” to inflict such a “social death” on the doctor.

The victim’s lawyer Elodie Abraham complained of a “politically correct” judgement.

“It doesn’t bother anyone that there’s been such a flagrant breach of medical secrecy. It’s not a good message for doctors,” Abraham said.

Neither Masmejean, who has been suspended from his hospital job, nor the victim were present for Wednesday’s ruling.

The surgeon may yet face professional consequences after appearing before the French medical association in September, his lawyer Ivan Terel said.

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