(AFP) The Frenchman accused of murdering four people at the Jewish museum of Belgium had links with other jihadists, including those behind the Brussels and Paris attacks, investigators say.
At least one lawyer wants to see if defendant Mehdi Nemmouche sheds more light on such links during his trial that opened last Thursday for the May 24, 2014 museum shooting spree.
The first opportunity may come on Tuesday when Nemmouche begins testifying in his defence in a Brussels criminal court.
Guillaume Lys, the lawyer for the French Association of Victims of Terrorism (AFVT), hopes his cross-examination may yield more detail about the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks.
“Our goal is to be able to have more information about the links between these people and others whom we know and who committed other acts,” said Lys, who represents a civil party in the trial.
The following links have already been established by investigators:
– Abdelhamid Abaaoud –
Weeks before the Jewish museum attack, Nemmouche was in regular telephone contact with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the presumed mastermind of the Paris attacks that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more.
Abaaoud was killed in a police shootout days after those attacks.
The calls took place in January 2014, when Nemmouche had just left Syria and was preparing to travel to southeast Asia via Turkey.
His trip would take in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand. The two men are believed to have fought together in Syria in 2013.
– Salah Abdeslam –
When the Brussels suicide bombings killed 32 people and wounded hundreds on March 22, 2016, both Nemmouche and Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam were in the same prison in the Belgian city of Bruges.
Abdeslam had been arrested in Brussels just days before after being on the run since the Paris massacre several months earlier.
Belgian investigators in the prison on the day of the bombings heard the two men talk to each other with voices raised as their cells were not next to each other.
Nemmouche told Abdeslam that a “Brahim” and a “Sofian” had died in the bombings at Zaventem Airport, the main international airport outside Brussels.
For investigators, these first names correspond to those of the airport suicide bombers Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui, also known as Soufiane Kayal.
This information suggested to investigators that the pair knew the attackers.
– Najim Laachraoui –
Nemmouche shared other links with Najim Laachraoui, who was also believed to be one of the bomb makers for the Paris attacks.
Four French journalists have identified the two as among their jailers after they were kidnapped in Syria in June 2013 and released on April 18, 2014.
Investigators also found an audio file attributed to Laachraoui from a computer seized near an alleged hideout of the Brussels bombers. It was believed he recorded it in February or March 2016.
The Belgian jihadist was heard suggesting kidnapping celebrities in order to exchange them for “brothers” in prison, including Nemmouche.
– Salim Benghalem –
The kidnapped French journalists also identified as another of their jailers Salim Benghalem, a French jihadist leader who was believed to have been killed in Syria at the end of 2017.
France’s Le Monde newspaper said he had duties that were more important than those of Nemmouche as he was suspected of having played a key role in dispatching jihadists from France.
In France, Benghalem gravitated toward the “Buttes-Chaumont” jihadist network, named after a park in Paris.
There he reportedly met the Kouachi brothers, who carried out the January 7, 2015 attack against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people.
He also met Amedy Coulibaly, the man who the next day murdered a female police officer before killing four people at a Kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9.