A small group of guests led by the chief rabbi of Belgium gathered in the inner courtyard of the Jewish Museum in Brussels this Sunday morning to mark the sixth anniversary of the attack in May 2014 that left four people dead.
The commemoration was limited by the restrictions in place because of the coronavirus epidemic. About a dozen guests were present, maintaining social distancing, as museum director Philippe Blondin spoke of the museum’s educational value and its spirit of openness. It is a place, he said, “where no subject or discussion is avoided and students are free to ask questions”.
Chief rabbi Albert Guigui led those present in prayer and the lighting of candles. The struggle against terrorism, he said, is far from over.
“They continue to do battle against our democracy,” he said. “Today more than ever, we must not forget that terrorism also means it is our job to fight for equality between people and against every form of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”
On Saturday May 24, 2014, Mehdi Nemmouche entered the museum and opened fire, killing two visitors, the Israeli couple Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, and one member of staff, Dominique Sabrier, on the spot. Another museum volunteer, Alexandre Strens, was critically injured, and died on June 6 of his wounds.
Nemmouche escaped, but was soon identified from CCTV images, and a European arrest warrant was issued. He was arrested later in Marseille in possession of firearms, gun parts and ammunition.
He was extradited to Belgium and stood trial for murder in January. Because of the long list of witnesses, the jury only delivered its verdict in March, finding Nemmouche guilty on all counts. Another man, Nacer Bendrer, was found guilty as an accessory for supplying Nemmouche with the weapons.
Bendrer was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Nemmouche himself was given life. In addition to those sentences, Nemmouche was ordered to be placed under the authority of a sentence enforcement tribunal if he is ever released on parole, which will have the authority to rescind his parole and return him to prison for a further 15 years if it sees fit.
Bendrer faces the same scrutiny when he is released, in his case with the possibility of serving five more years.