Posted: Jun 5, 2014 10:50 AM
Updated: Jun 5, 2014 10:50 AM
VERSAILLES, France (AP) The French suspect in the killing of three people at the Brussels Jewish Museum replied with a soft but firm "no" in a high-security courtroom Thursday when asked if he agrees to be extradited to Belgium.
Masked and armed police special forces guarded Mehdi Nemmouche in a Versailles courtroom during his first public appearance since his arrest. The 29-year-old, whose lawyer says he fought with Islamic extremists in Syria, was arrested at a Marseille bus station last week as he arrived in France, carrying a pistol and Kalashnikov resembling the weapons used in the May 24 killings.
Nemmouche was notified of the arrest warrant on Wednesday. His lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep, has said he will contest extradition on the grounds that his client is French, was arrested in France and a French citizen was among those killed.
The hearing over the European arrest warrant issued by Brussels was adjourned until June 12 at the request of Pepiezep, who wants more time to study his client's file and contest the extradition request.
Nemmouche, who has dual French-Algerian citizenship, appeared calm and unfazed at the hearing as he answered several procedural questions. He has refused to respond to investigators during nearly five days of questioning.
In a single minute of furious gunfire, three people were killed and a fourth seriously injured in the bold, daylight attack in Brussels.
In addition to the weapons Nemmouche carried upon his arrest, officers also found among his belongings a sheet scrawled with the name of the jihadi group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and a video displaying the weapons used in the killings. French judicial officials said he adopted radical Islamic beliefs in the seven years he spent in French prisons on various convictions.
"He never said it's me. He never said it's not me," Pepiezep said of his client after the hearing, noting that extradition is the only question currently on the table.
Pepiezep told reporters there is no proof his client was the shooter. He said Nemmouche had stolen the weapons he carried and even if they turn out to be those used at the Jewish Museum it doesn't mean he used them.
However, he said it's clear from Nemmouche's passport that he has been in Syria and his client, who is homeless and without a job, has admitted he lives off theft.
"So when they accuse him of taking part in jihad, when they accuse him of detention of arms, it's a fact," Pepiezep said.
After a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday, Europe's interior ministers said they are considering censoring jihadi websites and setting up a "task force" to counter jihadi propaganda to prevent radical Muslims from traveling to fight in Syria's civil war and then returning home to commit acts of terrorism.