Witness points to Mehdi Nemmouche as Jewish museum gunman

A court sketch shows Mehdi Nemmouche (centre) during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace.
A court sketch shows Mehdi Nemmouche (centre) during his trial at the Brussels Justice Palace.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - A young Frenchwoman on Monday (Feb 4) pointed to Mehdi Nemmouche as the gunman at the Jewish museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014, the first witness at his trial to do so.

Nemmouche, a 33-year-old Frenchman faces life in prison if convicted of the four museum murders.

Nacer Bendrer, 30, accused of supplying the weapons, also faces a life term.

"Does one of the two defendants remind you of the man you saw?" the trial's presiding judge asked the witness in the Brussels criminal court.

"That one," the woman said, nodding her head and pointing to Nemmouche.

"You said you recognised one of the defendants. To be very clear, is it the one between the two police officers in balaclavas (Nemmouche) or the other one?" the judge asked.

"Between the two men in balaclavas," the woman stuttered.

The young woman said she had a look at the gunman on the day of the shooting after approaching the museum upon hearing the first gunshots.

She said the gunman, whom she described as "very calm" and wearing a cap and sunglasses, had then looked away and resumed shooting.

The witness said the sunglasses found in Nemmouche's possession could be those that the gunman was wearing.

She also said that the man she saw had "brown hair," was clean shaven and had "a small round head and a square jaw." But Nemmouche's lawyer Sebastien Courtoy said the witness reported in her initial statements that she had seen a man of around "40 years old who had a bit of a belly." "At the time, she also said he is white, that he had a European style. Today, she says he is brown skinned," he added.

"That's what we feared," the lawyer said, adding that "by dint of seeing someone's face for years," she ends up saying it must be him.

Nemmouche's photo was widely distributed after he was arrested upon getting off a bus from Brussels in the French port city of Marseille a week after the attack.

Courtoy said the five initial witnesses at the trial that began Jan 10, including the young woman's companion, had not been able to identify Nemmouche as the gunman.

The trial is due to end in late February or early March.