Targeted assassination in spy-war or random killing? UPDATE
Two news articles on the arrest of a suspect for the Jewish Museum killings have been added to an earlier posting on speculations, by Richard Silverstein (3) and Amir Oren (4) about the killings.
Butchers’ shops line the streets of one of the main Muslim neighbourhoods in Roubaix, France. Unlike many French cities, Roubaix has made a point of embracing its Muslim population said the NY Times. However, Roubaix is also in France’s ‘rust belt’ where the loss of old industries has damaged hope and confidence. Photo by Corentin Fohlen for The New York Times
By AFP / Repost
June 01, 2014
A Frenchman who spent over a year in Syria has claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly shooting at a Jewish Museum in Brussels in a video recording, prosecutors said Sunday.
Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, who was arrested by customs agents on Friday on arrival in the southern French city of Marseille, is believed to have recorded the claim in a short video found in his possession along with a Kalashnikov and a handgun.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the “repeat offender” explains in the film that he had attached a GoPro camera to his bag to record his shooting rampage, but it had not worked.
Instead Nemmouche later “filmed his weapons and said he carried out the attack against the Jews in Brussels”, prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw told a simultaneous press conference taking place in the Belgian capital.
However Van Leeuw added: “We can’t guarantee that it is his voice heard on the recording.”
Molins said the suspect, who arrived in France on a bus from Amsterdam via Brussels, was also carrying a “white cloth” carrying an inscription in Arabic of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — Syria’s most extremist group — and the words “Allah is great”.
The French prosecutor said Nemmouche was converted to radical Islam during five stints in prison, adding the suspect called for “collective prayers while he was let out of his cell for exercises.”
President Francois Hollande said the suspect was “arrested as soon as he set foot in France”.
A judicial source said he had been detained on suspicion of murder and attempted murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise.
Nemmouche, originally from Roubaix in northern France, is believed to have travelled to join Islamist fighters in Syria in 2013, and was known to the French domestic intelligence agency DGSI, said one source close to the case.
A lone gunman entered the Jewish museum in the heart of Brussels last Saturday, removed an automatic rifle from a bag and opened fire through a door before making an exit.
An Israeli couple and a Frenchwoman died on the scene and a 24-year-old Belgian man was left clinically dead.
Sources confirmed that Nemmouche was carrying a Kalashnikov automatic rifle and a gun with ammunition in his luggage.
“These weapons were of the type used in Brussels,” said one source. Another source close to the investigation said that there were many elements “consistent with the shooting in Brussels”.
Sources close to the investigation told AFP that during the first 24 hours of interrogation, Nemmouche remained silent.
He is being questioned by the DGSI who can hold him for up to 96 hours, until Tuesday, or 144 hours, to Thursday, if investigators invoke an imminent terrorist threat.
His family meanwhile reacted with horror, describing him as taciturn but harmless.
“He is nice, intelligent, educated and has done a year at university,” Nemmouche’s aunt told reporters, adding that the family was “very shocked.”
She said Nemmouche had been raised in a foster home and then by his grandmother, adding that the family lost contact with him after he was sent to prison.
“He never went to the mosque or spoke of religion,” she said.
The attack was the first such incident in more than 30 years in Belgium and has revived fears of a return of violent anti-Semitism to Europe.
The European Jewish Congress has called for greater security at Jewish institutions and tougher legislation for dealing with anti-Semitic crime.
Some 40,000 Jews live in Belgium, roughly half in Brussels and the remainder in the port city of Antwerp.
Nemmouche’s past also stands to revive a row in France over the monitoring of those who leave to country to fight in Syria.
France unveiled plans in April to try to stop the increasing numbers of young French Muslims heading to fight in Syria’s civil war and becoming radicalised before returning home.
“The government is mobilised to track down jihadists and prevent them from causing more harm,” Hollande said.
According to the latest figures, some 780 people have left France to fight with jihadists in Syria.
Brussels Jewish Museum shooting: suspect with Islamist links arrested
Mehdi Nemmouche, who was known to French counter-terrorism police, found by chance by customs agents in Marseille
Anne Penketh, theguardian.com,
June 01, 2014
Paris–French customs agents have arrested an armed “jihadist” from northern France who is suspected of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum, authorities announced on Sunday.
The suspect, named as Mehdi Nemmouche from Roubaix, was arrested on Friday during a chance check by customs agents searching for illicit drugs at the main Marseille bus station. He was on a coach travelling from Amsterdam to Marseille via Brussels.
Authorities said he had a Kalashnikov and a pistol in his possession, identical to the weapons used in the museum attack on 24 May in which two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian museum employee were shot dead. The suspect also had in his bag a GoPro camera and a large quantity of ammunition. All the items in his possession have been sent to Lyon for analysis.
Nemmouche was known to French counter-terrorism police, who had placed him under surveillance after his return from Syria last year, where he was suspected of having joined Islamist fighters. Previously, he was reported to have travelled to the UK, Belgium, Lebanon and Turkey after serving a five-year jail sentence in Roubaix, about 60 miles (100km) from Brussels. Some media reports put the suspect’s age at 32, others at 29.
The French president, François Hollande, praised the work of the French authorities, saying the “presumed killer” had been arrested “as soon as he set foot in France, which happened to be in Marseille”.
BFMTV reported that the suspect was carrying a selection of newspaper articles about the museum killings, which were filmed by the building’s surveillance video cameras. He may have been attempting to flee to Algeria. Nemmouche can be kept in custody until Thursday under French anti-terrorism laws. He is being questioned by counter-terrorism police in Levallois-Perret outside Paris.
Police have been trying to establish whether the Brussels attack was an isolated act by a “lone wolf” or whether the killer belonged to a radical Islamist network.
Hollande, speaking during a visit to Normandy before D-Day commemorations next Friday, warned that France would show no mercy to French Islamists who travelled to Syria to take up arms against President Bashar al-Assad.
“The whole government is mobilised to follow jihadists and prevent them from harming, in particular when they come back to France or Europe,” he said. Several hundred French nationals are believed to have joined Islamist fighters in Syria, including the sister of Mohamed Merah – the French radical who was killed in a police siege after a shooting spree in which he murdered three French soldiers and Jewish civilians in March 2012 in Toulouse and Montauban. Souad Merah disappeared from France last month after saying she was proud of her brother.
The arrest of Nemmouche prompted French media to raise comparisons with the Merah case. Commentators pointed out that Merah and the suspect in the Brussels Jewish museum shootings came from similar backgrounds and had engaged in petty crime before becoming radicalised.
Roubaix is a town on the French-Belgium on the French-Belgium border. It was in the news last September when town officials ordered the expulsion of all the Roma who were living in camps there. A government minister said “few Roma could ever integrate into French society and ‘the majority’ should be sent ‘back to the borders’, human rights campaigners, the European Commission and one of his cabinet colleagues voiced indignation.” French police clear Roma camp in centre of Roubaix, BBC news
A French Town Bridges the Gap Between Muslims and Non-Muslims
August 5, 2013, NY Times
QUOTE from long article about Muslims in Roubaix
Demographers put the number of Muslims in France at five million to six million, or at least 8 percent of the population. In Roubaix, the mayor’s office estimates that the Muslim population is as much as 20,000, or about 20 percent of the population.
In conversations in the streets and mosques of Roubaix during Ramadan, Muslims made clear that while they face some of the same problems as other French Muslims, they feel that their little city is different.
“Our leitmotif is to live together, and in this living together there’s an image that we wish to give of the Muslim community: that we are French citizens before anything, before the religious aspect,” said Sliman Taleb-Ahmed, president of the association of Muslim institutions in Roubaix.
French rust belt provides ready recruits for Islam
Mary Dejevsky in Roubaix sees the appeal that religion has for a `betrayed’ generation, The Independent, April 1996
By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
May 26, 2014
Yesterday, I broke the story that the Rivas, an Israeli couple murdered in the Brussels Jewish museum terror attack, worked for agencies with connections to Israeli intelligence. Miriam worked for the Mossad and Emanuel for Nativ, a unit that encourages aliyah from Eastern European countries (including Russia). Thanks to reader Bluebird, who discovered that the Israeli embassy website in Germany lists Miriam Riva as an “attache” who worked there since 2007. My Israeli source informed me that they were both accountants.
Though I don’t know how diplomatic postings and cover works, I do wonder why an accountant would be classified as an attache. Admittedly, you’d want to protect anyone working for the Mossad by giving them some sort of diplomatic protection. So it might be a pro forma status. Or it could mean that her job as an accountant was yet another form of “cover.”
If we parse the thinking of whoever targeted the Rivas (presuming they were targeted, which isn’t certain), they might’ve noted their listing on the website and also discovered Miriam worked for the Mossad. From there, she would become a potentially high-value target. They needn’t even have known she was only an accountant and not an agent. Or alternatively, merely listing her name on the website as an Israeli diplomat could’ve made her a target for an enemy who wasn’t interested in distinguishing between Israel miltiary-intelligence and purely diplomatic status.
Amir Oren has also written an interesting column [below] in Haaretz discussing possible motives for the attack. He speculates that the killing of the Rivas could’ve been merely coincidental (wrong place, wrong time). He notes that Brussels is a center of European intrigue, filled with diplomats and politicians along with a major intelligence presence. At the same time, it is an “Arab-European” city filled with poor Arab residents who might serve as a refuge or operational base for terrorists. He also declares that based on the video footage and other factors the attack appears to have been a “professional” job rather than a disgruntled lone gunman.
His final suggestive theory is that like the Mossad assassination in Lillehammer, which was based on misidentification of the victim with the leader of Black September, the killing of the Rivas may’ve been based on such a faulty judgment. Either the killers mistook them for high-value diplomatic or intelligence targets (for example, Ephraim Halevy had a Brussels posting before he became Mossad chief and Tzipi Livni served in Europe as a Mossad agent), or they believed after discovering she worked for the Mossad, that she was an agent.
Finally, if it turns out that the the Rivas were targeted because someone believed they were Israeli government officials or even Mossad agents, no matter how heinous such murder is (and it is), in a sense Israel has only itself to blame. It is the country that sends its Kidon assassins around the world to murder Israel’s purported enemies, whether they be Hamas operatives like Mahmoud al-Mabouh, Hezbollah leaders like Imad Mugniyeh or Iranian nuclear scientists. In that sense, these killings might be “blowback” from these earlier Israeli operations. I have written this here many times before: Israel can’t expect that it will project force so far outside its borders, killing with relative impunity, and no one will take notice and attempt to return the favor. We no longer live in a time when Israeli power reigns supreme and it acts whenever and wherever it wishes.
Contrary to what some pro-Israel readers might say, this is not a justification for terror. It is a recognition that some in the Middle East believe in the principle of blood for blood (Israel certainly does). If one side sheds blood, then the other will do the same. This is a principle that, unfortunately, seems programmed into the region’s DNA. It will only stop when Israel drops the idea that it can get what it wants without paying a price; when Israel understands that it must reach a peace agreement with its neighbors and that to do so it will have to give up things that it may hold sacred (as will the other side).
Considering how professional the shooter looked on footage, and the fact two of those killed were former Israeli civil servants, maybe the attack was actually a battle in the covert war.
By Amir Oren, Haaretz
May 27, 2014
There was no practical reason for a hostile state like Iran or an enemy organization like Hezbollah to try and harm either Emanuel or Mira Riva – both former civil servants – at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Both were accountants who were employed separately by government bodies. They had no substantive connection to the core issues of either Iran or Hezbollah; their tools were numbers and computers, not cloaks and daggers.
Emanuel Riva came to Nativ, the liaison office for Jews from the former Soviet Union, from the Finance Ministry, where he met members of the security and intelligence community and the foreign service, and was in contact with senior government officials. Afterward, Mira was also hired by a government agency. There, and also when she was stationed at one of the agency’s missions in Europe, her post was solely administrative.
She wasn’t Mata Hari, or Sylvia Raphael, or Cindy of the Mordechai Vanunu affair. Even in Golani, after all, there is a crucial difference between the commander of the reconnaissance force and the unit’s paymaster.
Still, it’s possible that the murder in Brussels was not a hate crime or an anti-Semitic attack, but a targeted assault. This possibility is strengthened by the video of the killer’s actions. He was caught by the cameras looking like a professional, as if this was a settling of scores. Not the assassination of accountants, but a battle in a covert war, though perhaps there was a misidentification of the intended victims.
After all, such things have happened to organizations far more sophisticated than Iran and Hezbollah – like the Mossad, for instance, in its mistaken killing of Moroccan waiter Ahmed Bushiki in Lillehammer, Norway in 1973. Bushiki apparently looked to those tracking him like the double of Black September leader Ali Hassan Salameh. At the time, Brussels was one of the way stations in the Mossad’s bloody campaign against the various PLO factions throughout Europe. Tzadok Ofir, who controlled several agents, was seriously wounded there in an ambush by an Arab source who betrayed him.
Israel has double representation in Brussels – its embassy for Belgium, and its embassy to the European Union and NATO. In recent years, Brussels has been one of the most important postings in the foreign service, second only to Washington, and some of Israel’s top diplomats – including Ephraim Halevy (before he was appointed Mossad head) – were posted there.
Senior Israeli representatives are closely guarded by the Belgian authorities. Even a short trip with them to the local Foreign Ministry is a whole security operation.
Brussels is both a very international city and a very Muslim one. The headquarters of NATO, with its 28 member states and more than a dozen partners and observers, is located in one of its suburbs.
In the downtown area lies one of the centers of the European Union (which migrates periodically to Strasbourg). Bus No. 12 from the airport, which passes the NATO command center, full of officials from Europe and North America, continues downtown to the EU offices through neighborhoods that are clearly dominated by North Africans and others, with veiled women seen in the streets, stores and restaurants.
It’s easy to hide in this Arabic-European capital with diplomatic mail and passports from various countries and its supportive environment, which conceals and whisks you away.
Databases compromised in recent years (see Edward Snowden) – both those that have been published and those that have not – included tens of thousands of names, some with similar and erroneous spellings. They are liable to help evildoers track targets, correct or mistaken, and attack them, either as part of a plan or on an improvised basis, because the victims met acquaintances or colleagues who were in the trackers’ sights.