Files belonging to a lawyer representing civil parties in the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche, the principal accused in the Jewish Museum trial in Brussels, were stolen in a break-in, and the thief left behind a baseball bat and a replica Kalashnikov rifle.
The theft and symbolic weapons appear to be some form of threat, said lawyer Vincent Lurquin, who is representing two witnesses present during the attack on the museum in May 2014 in which four people were shot dead. Meanwhile the theft has cast a shadow of unease on the trial that is, as De Morgen put it “like a horse’s head in a bed”.
“I can assure you that everything is serene, everything is being taken care of,” the presiding judge told the jury at the start of yesterday’s session. The theft took place at Lurquin’s office in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe on Tuesday evening. The burglar is thought to have entered the building through a cellar window in the two hours between the last employee leaving and the theft being discovered.
The thief or thieves took only printed documents; a DVD containing copies of all of the documents on the case was left. But notes made by Lurquin on paper have gone. The thieves also took papers relating to the case of Abdelkadir Belliraj, a Moroccan-born man from Evergem outside Brussels who was sentenced to life in Rabat for terrorist crimes. He had previously confessed to six murders in Belgium, including that of the imam of the Grand Mosque in the 1980s.
The replica firearm, it appears, is the same as the one kept on the evidence table in the court, which Lurquin described as “worrying”.
But he did not intend to be intimidated. “It’s upsetting, but if they want to frighten me they won’t manage it,” he told La Libre. “It’s important for this not to influence the trial, and especially not the jury. We have to continue with the trial, without fear or favour. This is just part of being a lawyer. For us, it’s our job, but the jury has nothing to fear.”
UPDATE: This morning Nemmouche himself, normally unwilling to speak, took the floor in the courtroom to condemn the theft from lawyer Lurquin’s office. “I forbid whoever it may be to carry out any act of intimidation aimed at any judge, juror, prosecutor, lawyer or police officer,” he said in a six-minute declaration. “I demand they be allowed to go on with their lives peacefully, together with their families.” And he denied any role in the theft, stressing that he has been in isolation since his arrest apart from visits from his family. “I have never been part of a terrorist cell, and I have never had an accomplice. No-one can have carried out these acts of intimidation on my behalf.”