French customs agents have arrested an armed "jihadist" from northern France who is suspected of killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum.
The suspect, named as Mehdi Nemmouche from Roubaix, was arrested on Friday during a chance check by customs agents searching for illicit drugs at the main Marseille bus station. He was on a coach travelling from Amsterdam to Marseille via Brussels.
Authorities said yesterday he had a Kalashnikov rifle and a pistol in his possession, identical to the weapons used in the museum attack on May 24 in which two Israeli tourists, a French volunteer and a Belgian museum employee were shot dead. The suspect also had in his bag a GoPro camera and a large quantity of ammunition. All the items in his possession have been sent to Lyon for analysis.
Nemmouche was known to French counter-terrorism police, who had placed him under surveillance after his return last year from Syria, where he was suspected of having joined Islamist fighters.
The suspect's rifle was wrapped up in a white sheet scrawled with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an extremist group fighting in Syria, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said. He said the suspect had spent about a year in Syria.
Molins also said that Nemmouche, 29, had a criminal record, with seven convictions for crimes like attempted robbery - but nothing terrorism-related.
The French prosecutor said Nemmouche was converted to radical Islam during five stints in prison.
At a separate and nearly simultaneous news conference in Brussels, Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said the suspect had tried to film the killings on May 24, but his camera failed. A video found after his arrest shows his weapons and clothes, and includes his voice claiming responsibility for the attack, Van Leeuw said.
Belgian police carried out raids in case in the Courtrai region of the country yesterday, where the suspect is believed to have spent time, and are questioning two people there, Van Leeuw said.
"The new elements in this investigation draw attention once more to the problem of the 'returnees' - in other words the people going to Syria to participate in combat and return afterward to our country," he said. "All European countries are confronted at this moment with this problem."
The Brussels killings, which came on the eve of European Parliament elections in which far-right parties had a strong showing, led Belgian officials to boost their anti-terror measures, and raised fears of rising anti- Semitism.
BFMTV reported that the suspect was carrying a selection of newspaper articles about the museum killings, which were filmed by the building's surveillance video cameras.
French President Francois Hollande, speaking during a visit to Normandy before D-day commemorations on Friday, warned that France would show no mercy to French Islamists who travelled to Syria to take up arms against President Bashar al-Assad.
"The whole government is mobilised to follow jihadists and prevent them from harming, in particular when they come back to France or Europe," he said.
Several hundred French nationals are believed to have joined Islamist fighters in Syria, including the sister of Mohamed Merah, the French radical who was killed in a police siege after a shooting spree in which he murdered three French soldiers and Jewish civilians in Toulouse and Montauban in March 2012.
Souad Merah disappeared from France last month after saying she was proud of her brother.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse