(JTA) — France’s interior minister said he believes the Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium should not be considered a “lone wolf.”
Bernard Cazeneuve made the statement on Tuesday during an address before the French Senate about Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old alleged radical Muslim whom French and Belgian authorities believe committed the murders on May 24, the Belgian daily Le Soir reported.
“I would like to take the opportunity to reject the term ‘lone wolf,’ which proliferated during the attack committed by Mohammed Merah in March 2012,” Cazaneuve told the Senate’s legislative committee in reference to the murder of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Toulouse, France, “and which was revived in describing Mehdi Nemmouche after the killings at the Brussels Jewish museum.”
The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.
But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”
In the hours after Nemmouche’s arrest on May 30 in Marseille, Cazeneuve himself used the phrase in describing Nemmouche, as did the Paris region public prosecutor, Francois Molins.
According to French and Belgian authorities, Nemmouche traveled from the Belgian capital to Marseille in southern France. Customs officers arrested him during a routine bag inspection and found an AK-47 assault rifle and a handgun –- weapons that match the type of firearms reportedly used at the museum. Nemmouche’s lawyer says his client stole the weapons from a parked car in Brussels and did not commit the murders.
A French court will determine on June 26 whether Nemmouche, who is believed to have fought with jihadists in Syria last year, is to be extradited to Belgium to face trial there. His attorney said he would not oppose extradition to Belgium if Belgium promises not to extradite him to a “third country.”
Also on Tuesday, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the killings during a speech in Geneva in which she focused on the rise of far-right politicians in Europe, noting the recent successes of France’s National Front.
“There is a road to perpetration of human rights violations, and hate speech, particularly by political leaders, is on that road,” she said, adding that the museum shootings “is connected to this climate of extremism.”
Her words drew criticism from the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, or LBCA. “Mrs. Pallay is right, but she should apply her words at her own house,” the league’s president, Joel Rubinfeld, said in a statement Wednesday. “Indeed, the U.N. Human Rights Council is probably the most high-level international arena where xenophobic speeches are held, including attempts to portray Israel as a Nazi state, with tragic consequences we are experiencing across Europe.”
On Monday, the French imam Hassan Chalghoumi led a delegation of a handful of imams on a visit to the still-closed museum “to express solidarity with the victims and utter rejection of extremism,” he told the Belga news agency.