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Verdict due in trial of Frenchman accused of Brussels Jewish museum attack

Benooit Peyrucq / AFP | A court sketch made on January 10, 2019 shows Mehdi Nemmouche during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace.

A verdict is due Thursday in the trial of the accused Brussels Jewish museum killer, allegedly the first Syria jihad veteran to stage a terror attack in Europe.

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Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, faces a life sentence if convicted of the "terrorist murders" in the Belgian capital on May 24, 2014, following his return from Syria's battlefields.

Nemmouche is accused of killing the four victims in cold blood in less than 90 seconds, but he denies the accusation and told the court on Tuesday he was "tricked".

This referred to arguments made by defence lawyers that Nemmouche was not to blame for the cold-blooded slaughter, but that he was caught up in some kind of plot targeting the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The argument involves Israeli couple Miriam and Emmanuel Riva, the first two of the four people killed in the attack.

A young Belgian employee, Alexandre Strens, and French volunteer Dominique Sabrier were also murdered.

The defence team has suggested that the Riva couple were intelligence agents murdered by an unknown man who had hunted them down.

The Riva family's lawyers have furiously rejected the theory and said attempts to pass off the tourists as secret agents was "an absolute scandal".

"Let's stop the joking," prosecutor Yves Moreau told the court on Tuesday, describing the arguments presented by the defence as "complete nonsense" against compelling evidence.

Miriam Riva worked for Mossad but, as an accountant, she was not operational, said the investigating judges who travelled to Israel during their investigation.

Yohan Benizri, the head of Belgium's Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organisations, denounced what he called a "nauseating conspiracy theory".

'Deeply convinced'

Nemmouche is accused with Nacer Bendrer, 30, who is suspected of supplying the weapons for the attack.

The investigation showed that the two men had dozens of telephone conversations in April 2014, when Nemmouche allegedly prepared the attack.

Six days after the massacre, Nemmouche was arrested in the French city of Marseille in possession of a revolver and a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle.

At the trial, Bendrer admitted that the Nemmouche had asked him for a Kalashnikov when he came to Brussels in early April, but claimed he never delivered it.

Among other personal effects, Nemmouche upon arrest carried a nylon jacket with gunshot residue, as well as a computer in which investigators found six videos claiming the attack with an off-camera voiceover thought to be Nemmouche.

In total, the prosecution said it had identified 23 pieces of evidence pointing to Nemmouche, who also physically resembles the shooter seen on the museum's surveillance video.

"We are both deeply convinced that the two accused did indeed commit these acts," one of the two prosecutors said in their indictment.

The prosecutors say the attack was the first carried out in Europe by a jihadist returning from fighting in Syria.

The Brussels killings came 18 months before the November 13, 2015, Paris attacks which left 130 dead.

(AFP)

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