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Europe

France charges Brussels Jewish Museum killer with Syria hostage-taking

media A van carrying Mehdi Nemmouche arrives at the court in Paris on Wednesday AFP

A French investigator has chargd the alleged author of a deadly attack on Brussels's Jewish Museum in connection with the detention of four French journalists in Syria by the Islamic State armed group in 2013-14.

Mehdi Nemmouche, 32, was transferred to Paris from a Belgian jail and interviewed by a magistrate at 10.00am on Wednesday morning.

After a 10-minute grilling he was charged with kidnapping, sequestration, participation in a terrorist enterprise and involvement in a terror plot.

"On my advice, Mehdi Nemmouche declared he had nothing to say," his lawyer, Francis Vuillemin, said afterwards, adding that he would be questioned again.

But he should return to Belgium soon, the authorities there having only agreed a temporary stay in France.

He is due to face trial there for the 2014 killing of four people, one of them French, at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital.

Nemmouche, who was radicalised in prison and went to fight with IS in Syria, was arrested at Marseille bus station a few days after the attack and handed over to the Belgian authorities.

Identified by ex-hostages

Shortly after his arrest, the journalists - Didier François, Pierre Torrès, Edouard Elias and Nicolas Hénin - were questioned by French intelligence and identified him as one of their jailers.

Later they told the media that he had been known as "Abu Omar the bruiser".

"When he wasn't singing he was torturing," Hénin said. "He was one of a small group of French nationals who terrorised the roughly 50 Syrian prisoners in the cells next to ours."

Confirming that he was "extremely violent with the Syrian prisoners", François said he suffered from a "sort of anti-Semitic obsession" that made him want to "imitate or outdo" Toulouse attacker Mohamed Merah.

The former hostages also identified Najim Laachraoui, one of the March 2016 Brussels suicide-bombers, and Salim Benghalem, an alleged member of a Paris network that sent volunteer jihadists to Iraq and had contact with Charlie Hebdo attackers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, as being among their jailers.

Nemmouche has been in solitary confinement since his extradition to Belgium but was transferred to a prison near the French border where he could receive medical care after his lawyers claimed he was losing his eyesight and his hearing.

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