September 6, 2014 / 7:48 PM / in 3 years

Former French hostage says Brussels attack suspect was among his captors in Syria

PARIS (Reuters) - A French journalist held hostage for months in Syria said on Saturday that one of his captors was a Frenchman suspected of killing four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May.

Nicolas Henin (R), former French hostage and journalist, is greeted by his family moments after he arrived by helicopter from Evreux to the military airbase in Villacoublay, near Paris, in this April 20, 2014 file picture. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The reporter, Nicolas Henin, said he recognized Mehdi Nemmouche from video shown to him as part of an investigation. He did not elaborate on the nature of the probe, but mentioned that “a judicial procedure” had been launched while he was still a hostage.

“After the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche I have been shown a few audovisual documents that allowed me to recognize him formally,” Henin, who was freed on April 20 along with three other French journalists, told a news conference.

He said Nemmouche beat him.

“After beating me up, he would show me his gloves. He was very proud of his motorcycle gloves. He told me he had bought them especially for me,” he said.

“I do not know if other Western hostages were mistreated but I could hear him torture Syrian prisoners.”

Nemmouche, 29, is in custody in Belgium over the May 24 shooting attack after being arrested in Marseille on May 30 and extradited in July. He is to appear before a Belgian court on Sept. 12.

Henin spoke at the Paris offices of French weekly Le Point, which early on Saturday had published excerpts of a piece written by Henin in which he described Nemmouche as one of a group of French nationals who had moved in Islamic State circles in Syria.

“When Nemmouche was not singing, he was torturing,” Henin wrote in Le Point.

Le Point said it had not initially planned to go public with Henin’s information for fear of jeopardizing the safety of other hostages, but decided to go ahead when French daily Le Monde reported on Saturday morning that French intelligence identified Nemmouche as one of the captors of Western hostages in Syria.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told BFM television on Saturday that the intelligence, which Le Monde said was gleaned from interviews with the four journalists, was immediately passed to French judicial authorities “in a very discreet manner”.

Nemmouche’s lawyer Apolin Pepiezep told Reuters on Saturday that his client was never asked during the five days he was questioned in France whether he had been to Syria or about his possible role as a captor.

Henin and the three other French journalists - Didier Francois, Edouard Elias and Pierre Torres - spent 10 months in the hands of an extremist group in Syria.

They had initially decided against speaking of their experience for fear of reprisals against other hostages.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Pauline Mevel and Marion Drouet; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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