If cannabis were legal in France, Mehdi Nemmouche would be safely in Algeria, instead of under lock and key awaiting extradition to Belgium. Nemmouche was on his way to his father’s native Algeria when French customs agents in Marseille searched the bus on which he had travelled from Amsterdam. They were looking for drugs.
What they found instead in Nemmouche’s possession was a Kalashnikov rifle, a revolver, lots of ammunition, a gas mask, a short video of the weapons in his possession accompanied by a verbal commentary (probably in his voice) on the recent murder of four Jews at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, clothing similar to that worn by the perpetrator of that attack, and a white flag with the words Islamic State of Iraq and of the Levant in Arabic inscribed on it. No man is guilty until proven so in a court of law, of course, but the prosecuting authorities allowed themselves to say that the presumptive evidence against Nemmouche was very strong.
Nemmouche’s story is depressingly banal, at least in this context, and brings to mind that of Mohamed Merah, another young man of Algerian parentage, who in 2012 shot dead three French paratroopers and four other people—three children and a teacher—at a Jewish school in Toulouse, before being killed himself by French security forces after a siege at his home.
Nemmouche was abandoned by his father soon after his birth in 1985, leaving him in the charge of a mother who could not cope; he was placed in foster care at the age of three months. His siblings were likewise placed in care. At his own request, he went to live with his grandmother when he was 17. A teacher took him under his wing, and he tried but failed to become an electrician. Instead, he turned to crime and was convicted seven times for such offenses as driving without a license, auto theft, and robbery. His last sentence, from 2007–12, was for another violent robbery, among other crimes.
Never having been religious, Nemmouche was converted to jihadi Islam in prison. Known to the French intelligence services, he dropped out of sight after getting out of prison and began travelling in Europe and Asia. He spent a year in Syria but tried to cover his tracks with trips to Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. When he returned to Europe, the authorities at Frankfurt airport, suspicious of the travels recorded in his passport, alerted their French counterparts. However, he again disappeared until, quite by chance, the customs officers found him in Marseille. It appears that, since his return to Europe, he had lived by petty crime. Jihad is a concept perfectly suited to giving psychopaths the idea that their viciousness serves an ideal other than their own gratification.
The French president, François Hollande, with his talent for making himself look ridiculous or contemptible in the eyes of his compatriots, tried to reassure the population that the security situation was under control and that there was nothing to worry about. Nemmouche, he said, had been apprehended as soon as he set foot in France—overlooking the fact that it was quite by chance that he was apprehended, and that Marseille is about as far from the Belgian border as it is possible to get while still remaining in France.
Not long ago, the European Court of Human Rights displayed its unutterable incompetence and stupidity by ruling that imprisonment in perpetuity is against fundamental human rights. The court thinks that a crime such as Nemmouche’s is forgivable, and moreover, that it is his human right to be given a chance of rehabilitation, presumably by some kind of moral physiotherapy.