French court approves extradition for suspect in Jewish Museum attack

VERSAILLES France Thu Jun 26, 2014 5:06am EDT

Police officers stand near vehicles thought to be transporting Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, the French national who is suspected of the shooting attack in the Brussels Jewish Museum last month that left four people dead, as he leaves after an extradition hearing at the Appeal Court of Versailles, near Paris, June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Police officers stand near vehicles thought to be transporting Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, the French national who is suspected of the shooting attack in the Brussels Jewish Museum last month that left four people dead, as he leaves after an extradition hearing at the Appeal Court of Versailles, near Paris, June 26, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

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VERSAILLES France (Reuters) - A French court on Thursday approved the extradition to Belgium of the French suspect in a May 24 shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels that left four people dead.

Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, has been held in police custody on anti-terror laws on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and possession of weapons in relation to the attack since being arrested in the southern city of Marseille on May 30.

Nemmouche had originally refused extradition, then later agreed to it provided that Belgium would not send him to a third country for trial. His lawyer, Apolin Pepiezep, has said that Nemmouche was concerned that he would be sent to Israel, given that two of the victims of the attack were Israeli.

Prosecutors say Nemmouche was a repeat offender in France, having been convicted on counts of armed robbery, assault and vandalism, among other crimes, and spent most of 2013 in Syria fighting with Islamist rebels.

European governments are increasingly worried that citizens going to fight in Syria will import Islamist militancy on their return.

The attack by a man who opened fire with a Kalashnikov rifle killed an Israeli couple and a French woman. A Belgian man also shot and injured in the attack died on June 6.

When arrested at a Marseille bus terminal, Nemmouche was carrying a Kalashnikov, another gun and ammunition similar to that used in the shooting, prosecutors said. Pepiezep said Nemmouche told police he had stolen them from a car in Brussels.

Nemmouche has three days to appeal the decision. If he does, the Versailles appeals court will have 40 days to rule on whether or not to extradite him. If he does not, he will be extradited at the end of that period.

"He will most likely appeal the decision," said Pepiezep. "He has not received a guarantee from Belgium that he would not be extradited to a third country."

An extradition within EU member states takes on average 16 days if the suspect agrees to it, according to the European Commission.

An appeal was likely only to delay rather than block his transfer to Brussels, legal sources said.

(Reporting by Lucien Libert and Chine Labbe; Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Nicholas Vinocur and Sonya Hepinstall)

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