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article imageJewish museum attack families tell court of grief

By Matthieu DEMEESTERE (AFP)     Jan 31, 2019 in World

The Israelis orphaned by the murderous gun attack on Belgium's Jewish Museum testified on Thursday in the trial of the accused attacker.

The defendant, Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche, 33, appeared in the dock to insist that he was not behind the four "terrorist murders" in May 2014.

Two of the four victims were Israelis and the defence has previously suggested they were Mossad agents, victims of an assassination by persons unknown.

Nemmouche hinted at this idea, denounced as a murky and unfounded conspiracy theory by prosecutors, on Thursday when he spoke of what he called a tragic "pseudo-attack".

The defence team has previously suggested that the Israeli couple -- Miriam and Emmanuel Riva -- were intelligence agents murdered by an unknown man who had hunted them down.

Nemmouche and Nacer Bendrer, a fellow Frenchman aged 30 who allegedly supplied the weapons, face life in prison if convicted of charges of terrorist murder.

Six days after the attack, Nemmouche was arrested in the southern French port city of Marseille. Bendrer was arrested in Marseille in December 2014.

Investigators say Nemmouche was the gunman and launched the attack shortly after returning from Syria, where he had allegedly fought on behalf of jihadist groups.

Both deny the charges against them.

Ayalet and Shira, 19 and 21, the two orphaned daughters of the Riva couple, described a mother "devoted to her family" and an unassuming father who "loved to travel".

"(Now) "we have to manage on our own even if we receive help from the family," Ayalet said.

On that tragic weekend, the Rivas celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary in the Belgian capital and left their teenage daughters at home.

"Eighteen years, in Jewish tradition, is a symbolic number that means life," said Arieh Riva, 59, Emmanuel's twin brother and an accountant like him.

The two said they learned about the anti-Semitic attack through the media: "Then we tried to find out, and at 4:00 in the morning we received the bad news".

In the dock listening to the testimony, Nemmouche remained impassive, looking away. Earlier, the alleged jihadist had reaffirmed his innocence.

"I reiterate that I am not the museum killer, I condemn all acts of intimidation and call on everyone to let this trial take place in complete serenity," he said.

Nemouche also said he "strongly" dissociated himself from a burglary on Tuesday targeting one of the case's lawyers.

On Wednesday, lawyer Vincent Lurquin complained that his laptop and two files had been stolen from his office, and a baseball bat and fake gun left to intimidate witnesses.

Lurquin represents attack survivor Clara Billeke Villalobos, an 81-year-old Chilean artist, who witnessed the killings and has testified during the case.

The trial is due to last until the end of February or early March.

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