Jewish museum attack victim's mother tells Belgian court of horror
Dirk WAEM (BELGA/AFP)
The mother of a victim of Belgium's Jewish museum attack faced her son's alleged killer for the first time on Friday, as the terror trial turned harrowing when the court was shown footage of the anti-Semitic murders.
The accused gunman, Mehdi Nemmouche, watched the silent security camera video of the May 2014 shooting spree intently and listened impassively to the testimony of Annie Adam, mother of victim Alexandre Strens.
"I live like a mother whose wings were cut," Adam told the judges and 12-person jury.
Strens, a 26-year-old employee of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, became the fourth victim of the massacre when he died from a gunshot wound to the head two weeks after the attack.
Friday was the first time since the trial opened in Brussels more than a week ago that the 33-year-old Frenchman has confronted the anguish of the victims' families.
Adam told the court about the call she made to the police to learn if her son was a victim, as well as the question she faced from doctors when she arrived at the hospital:
"Do we turn off (his life support) with half-a-kilo of brains that fell out?"
Adam, aided by a microphone, recalled the tears that ran down her child's cheek after his operation.
"The professor who operated on him told me he could hear. I had to go to his left side because the bullet entered the right," the retired domestic worker said.
"I told him: The little princess says 'hello'," she said, referring to Strens' niece. "We will find the one who did this to you."
- Mother had 'anxiety attacks' -
Adam's lawyer Christian Dalne said earlier his client had above all feared "seeing the face" of his alleged murderer, who still causes her "anxiety attacks".
The footage shown in court showed a gunman shooting an Israeli couple, Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, then Strens and Dominique Sabrier, a French volunteer.
In the fast-paced video, which lasts around a minute, he starts off firing a pistol and finishes with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Adam sobbed as she watched footage of her mortally-wounded son stirring on the museum floor.
At the trial on Tuesday, Nemmouche denied charges he was the gunman who killed the four people.
But he then warned he would -- for the time being -- refuse to answer questions, accusing the authorities of striking names from a list of witnesses he felt could help in his defense.
Both Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer, a 30-year-old fellow Frenchman who allegedly supplied the weapons, face life in prison if convicted of charges of terrorist murder.
Investigators said Nemmouche attacked the museum shortly after returning from Syria, where he had allegedly fought on behalf of jihadist groups.
Six days after the attack, Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French port city of Marseille. Bendrer was arrested in Marseille in December 2014.
The prosecution said Nemmouche's fingerprints or DNA were found on the pistol and Kalashnikov used in the attack, weapons seized when he was arrested.
- Defense points finger at Mossad -
Nemmouche's lawyers said he "is not the killer" and that the attack was not carried out by the Islamic State group operating in Syria and Iraq.
In fact, they argue that the deaths might have been tied to some kind of murky covert operation involving agents of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.
Defense lawyer Sebastien Courtoy promised to provide evidence showing that Emmanuel Riva was not a simple accountant but the vice consul at the Israeli mission in Berlin.
"The Rivas worked for the Mossad, lived in Berlin and monitored Shiite movements," said Courtoy, who has a reputation for defending notorious clients in high-profile cases.
Courtoy said Strens' father was of Moroccan origin who had been "flagged for subversive activities at the embassy of Iran".
He alleged that "there is a trail raised by (Belgian) state security that leads toward Iran and Hezbollah," the Shiite militant movement in Lebanon.
But Adam's lawyer Dalne said the allegation was a red herring.
"A memo from state security in the case shows that upon investigation the attack had nothing to do with the possible political activities" of Strens' father, Dalne said.
Adam told the court that Strens and his seven siblings all changed their names after a Belgian adopted their father in 1992. The French Le Soir newspaper said Strens was named Reydouane Latrach at birth.
Strens, whose parents divorced in 2003, had not seen his father for years, his mother said.
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