French police arrested Mehdi Nemmouche on Friday for an attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels in May that killed three. Authorities say Nemmouche took responsibility for the shootings and may have ties to the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
According to the Associated Press, Nemmouche was arrested in France while getting off of a bus in Marseille. Nemmouche arrived from Amsterdam, according to Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins. The suspect was arrested with an automatic weapon on his person that appeared similar to that used in the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, which is currently undergoing investigation to determine whether it was, in fact the same weapon.
Nemmouche, a French national, previously claimed responsibility for the attack in a video, according to investigators. Investigators also revealed that Nemmouche had spent time in Syria and that the automatic weapon found on his person “was wrapped up in a white sheet scrawled with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an extremist group fighting in Syria.” He was also arrested carrying a hand-held camera, which could have been used to create the video that allegedly implicated him as a suspect.
The shooting in late May at the Brussels Jewish museum left an Israeli couple and one French visitor dead immediately, as well as a Belgian man “clinically dead.” “I am shocked by the murders committed at the Jewish museum, I am thinking of the victims I saw there and their families,” Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders tweeted at the time.
Nemmouche’s time in Syria has made French and Belgian officials question how to monitor potential jihadist extremists who travel to Syria and return “radicalized” by terrorist elements fighting in the civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Belgian police raided a location in which witnesses helped capture Nemmouche and triggered talk of how to handle those who return from the warfronts. “All European countries are confronted at this moment with this problem,” said one Belgian official.
Hundreds of jihadists with citizenship in Europe are believed to be fighting on Syrian battlefields. The UK Telegraph reported last December that hundreds of Islamist extremists were fighting in Syria from the UK alone, while other countries significantly impacted by this phenomenon include Australia, France, Germany, Belgium, and Sweden. That number has only increased in the last few months.