Frenchman convicted to life in Jewish museum attack, tells jury ‘life goes on!’

By Clement Rossignol

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – French citizen Mehdi Nemmouche was sentenced to life in jail on Monday for shooting dead four people in a Jewish museum in 2014, telling the court “life goes on” in his last words to the jury.

The families of victims and survivors of the attacks voiced relief at the end of a two-month-long jury trial dogged by controversy over what they denounced as conspiracy theories put forward by Nemmouche’s defense lawyers.

Nemmouche, 33, who staged the attack after coming back from Syria, spat out just that one short phrase ahead of the jury’s final deliberation on the length of his penalty on Monday.

Nacer Bendrer, another French citizen being tried as Nemmouche’s accomplice told the court, “I am ashamed to be here … I am ashamed to have crossed paths with this guy. He is not a man, he is a monster.”

The 12-person jury convicted Bendrer to 15 years in prison for acting as an accomplice. He was suspected of providing the weapon used in the shooting.

The attack in May 2014 – the first by a Western European who fought with Islamist militant factions in Syria’s civil war – highlights the threat posed by jihadist returning home.

The shooting killed an Israeli tourist couple, Myriam and Emmanuel Riva, and two employees of the museum, Dominique Sabrier and Alexandre Strens.

In final words, the prosecutor Yves Moreau called on the jury to hand down a tough sentence: “He will get out of jail and he’ll go on another crusade and start killing again,” he was cited by the state broadcaster RTBF as saying on Monday.

Turning to Nemmouche, who was largely impassive and refused to speak during the trial, he took aim at his lack of contrition. “The cherry on the cake: you aren’t even capable of taking responsibility for your acts,” he said.

Nemmouche, 33 – who was radicalized in the jail, according to investigators – is also facing charges in France over his role in holding hostage journalists in Syria.

During the high-profile trial, the two French journalists had testified that they remembered Nemmouche as a deeply anti-Semitic, sadistic and full of hatred.

Defense lawyers, who had alleged that prosecutors doctored video footage of the attack and that Nemmouche was framed in a settling of accounts between spies including Mossad agents, said he would not appeal the sentence.

(Reporting by Clement Rossingnol; Additional by Clare Roth; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Jan Strupczewski)

Boko Haram frees 21 kidnapped Chibok girls

Members of the #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) campaign stand behind a banner with Number 218 during a sit-out in Abuja, Nigeria May 18, 2016, after receiving news that a Nigerian teenager kidnapped by Boko Haram from her school in Chibok more than two years ago has been rescued.

By Alexis Akwagyiram and Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) – Boko Haram has freed 21 of more than 200 girls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group in April 2014 in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok, the government said on Thursday.

Around 270 girls were taken from their school in Chibok in the northeastern Borno state, where the jihadists have waged a seven-year insurgency to try to set up an Islamic state, killing thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.

Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 girls are still missing. The kidnapping brought outrage worldwide and their plight was promoted by a Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.

“The release of the girls … is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government,” a presidency statement said. “The negotiations will continue.”

The presidency gave no details of the deal, saying only that the 21 girls were very tired and would first rest in the custody of the national security agency. They would then be handed over to Vice President Yemi Obinsajo, the statement said. President Muhammadu Buhari will travel to Germany on Thursday.

CNN published on its website a picture it said showed several of the freed girls, wearing veils and being escorted by soldiers in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.

Authorities said in May one of the missing girls had been found and Buhari vowed to rescue the others.

In the past days, the Nigerian military has been carrying out a large-scale offensive in the Sambisa forest, a stronghold of Boko Haram, which last year pledged loyalty to the Islamic State militant group.

Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land around the size of Belgium at the start of 2015, but Nigeria’s army, aided by troops from neighboring countries, has recaptured most of the territory. The group still stages suicide bombings in the northeast, as well as in neighboring Niger and Cameroon.

Boko Haram published a video in August apparently showing recent footage of dozens of the kidnapped girls and said some had been killed in air strikes.

The militant group has kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children but the kidnapping of the Chibok girls brought it worldwide attention.

In the last few months Buhari has said his government was prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram over the release of the girls.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram, Felix Onuah and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Janet Lawrence)