A jury in Brussels has found Mehdi Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer guilty of four counts of terrorist homicide in the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014. The sentencing phase of the trial, when the defence may call character witnesses and make appeals for clemency to the jury, begins today. However there can be little doubt that the two men face a very long time in prison.
Murder in Belgium carries a mandatory life sentence, equivalent to 30 years. The terrorist circumstances of the case, an optional aggravation for which the jury voted in favour, can only make the sentence harsher.
According to all of the evidence, Nemmouche carried out the actual attack alone. Bendrer, who collapsed in the dock on hearing the verdict, was an accomplice who supplied him with weapons and arranged his escape. But the jury chose to convict him as co-author of the crime, a more serious charge than accomplice.
As well as the murders of Israeli couple Emanuel and Miriam Riva, and museum workers Dominique Sabrier and Alexandre Strens, the two accused also faced charges on firearms offences. Those sentences will be subsumed into the sentences on the more serious charges. Sentences in Belgium typically run concurrently.
Throughout the trial, the jury had heard claims of a massive conspiracy which Nemmouche had been caught up in. In a statement prepared by the chief judge in consultation with the jury, intended to explain their reasoning, that argument was swept aside in one phrase: “That is of no consequence.”
Nemmouche, the statement said, “Had the intention of gravely intimidating the Belgian people, and in particular the Jewish community.”
“Today we learn the truth, which is that Nemmouche shot four people dead in cold blood,” said Vincent Lurquin, one of the lawyers for the victims. “The jury has delivered a verdict without fear and without hate, and with a perfect understanding of the evidence. Our democracy and our values have been victorious over the hatred shown by Nemmouche and Bendrer. This verdict will enter the history books as the first trial for all of the attacks which followed.”
Marc Libert, counsel for the Riva family, told how he had been in contact with the dead couple’s daughters in Israel. “We sent them a message, they have been informed,” he said. “We are going off to call them now. They now begin the grieving process with the honour and the memory of their parents restored. I think they will be very satisfied.”
The sentences are likely to be announced on Monday.