The Cable

In Brussels, an Extradition and Accusations of Abuse

The case of Mehdi Nemmouche shows the simultaneous struggles facing Western European governments.


In 2014, France extradited Mehdi Nemmouche to Belgium as a suspect in the shooting of the Jewish Museum in Brussels that same year. Now, Paris wants Nemmouche back, alleging he’s also part of a religious extremist collective that held four French journalists hostage.

Nemmouche was declared in 2014 as “the shape of terror to come.” And, indeed, he seems to epitomize the simultaneous fights against terrorism, rising anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia that Western European governments finds themselves facing.

Reported anti-Semitic attacks in France are said to have more than doubled from 2014 to 2015, a reality for which 59 percent of French people thought Jewish people were to blame. Many believe Islamophobic policies and practices are also on the rise and may be fueling both terrorism and anti-Semitism. That’s at least in part because fear-mongering by far-right anti-immigrant groups following terror attacks have amped social disenfranchisement among Muslims, some of whom cite that as the driver behind their entry into extremist behavior.

The struggle to balance those battles will not cease soon: On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing Belgian counterterror police of being physically and verbally abusive. One suspect quoted in the report, who said police beat him and called him “dirty Arab,” elaborated, “We are attacked by the Islamic State, which considers us disbelievers when we have nothing to do with them. And we are attacked by the state, which says, ‘You are involved with the Islamic State.’”

Nemmouche, for his part, was arrested in Marseilles less than a week after the Jewish Museum shooting. He was extradited from France to Belgium two months later. French authorities then issued their own European arrest warrant. On Thursday, Belgian prosecutors said Nemmouche could be returned to France, where he would be charged with and prosecuted for terrorism and kidnapping, but only once Brussels “no longer needs him.”

Photo credit: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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