Two Israelis Among Three Killed in Brussels Museum Attack

Unknown man opens fire inside Jewish museum in what Belgian interior minister describes as an apparent anti-Semitic attack.

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Police personnel outside of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, May 24, 2014.
Police personnel outside of the Jewish Museum in Brussels, May 24, 2014.Credit: Reuters

An Israeli couple was among three people killed in Saturday's terror attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. A French national and museum worker was named as the third fatality.

A fourth person, a Belgian citizen and also employee of the museum was listed in critical condition. Media reports claimed on Sunday morning that he had succumbed to his wound, but Belga news agency later quoted mayor Yvan Mayeur as saying he was still alive.

Prosecutors are looking for a lone suspect in the lethal weekend shooting spree, which is presumed to be a terrorist attack. Deputy prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch said the suspect "probably acted alone, was armed and well prepared."

Police had detained one suspect late Saturday but he was soon released.

The bodies of the Israeli citizens - Emmanuel and Mira Riva, a couple in their 50s who reside in Tel Aviv- will be flown to Israel once the Belgian investigators permit it. At 11:00 AM Belgium time (12 P.M. Israel time) the Belgian Justice Ministry is set to hold a press conference in which it will provide details about the investigation.

'Probably a terrorist attack'

A spokesman for the Brussels fire brigade said the shooter drove up to the museum, went inside and fired shots. The shooter then fled the scene in his vehicle. An eye witness told Belgian TV station RTBF that at least six shots were fired.

"According to the information we have at the moment, it was a solitary shooter and it seems to have happened inside the museum," Pierre Meys, Brussels fire brigade spokesman, told French channel BFM TV.

Brussels Mayor Mayeur told RTBF that he believed the shooting to be a "terrorist attack."

The museum and its surroundings were sealed off following the shooting.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who was one of the first officials to arrive at the scene, said he was "shocked by the murders at the Jewish Museum."He said that "there were a lot of witnesses and the investigation is moving fast."

"Witnesses told me that the suspected shooter was carrying bags when he entered the museum so it was urgent for the police to check that nothing had been left inside the museum," Reynders said.

Reynders added that "you cannot help to think that when we see a Jewish museum, you think of an anti-Semitic act. But the investigation will have to show the causes."

Belgium's interior minister, Joëlle Milquet, was quoted saying by the RTBF that anti-Semitic motives could be behind the attack. About half of Belgium's Jewish community of over 42,000 lives in Brussels.

"It's a shooting ... at the Jewish Museum," she was quoted saying. "All of this can lead to suspicions of an act of anti-Semitism."

European Jewish leaders urge condemnation

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said that, even though it has yet to be established whether the attack was anti-Semitic, "we are acutely aware of the permanent threat to Jewish targets in Belgium and across the whole of Europe."

"European government must send out a clear message of zero tolerance toward any manifestation of anti-Semitism," Kantor said in a statement.

Jewish community officials drew parallels between the shooting and the 2012 killing of four Jews in a school in France by an Al-Qaida-inspired gunman, Mohammed Merah.

"This really reminds of what you experienced in France with Mr. Merah attacking a Jewish school," Maurice Sosnowski, president of the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations, was quoted saying by BFM TV.

"This is appalling. I would never have imagined something like that happening in Brussels."

He said no threats have been issued to the Jewish community.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder urged Belgian authorities to protect Jewish sites in the country.

"Two years after Toulouse...this despicable attack is yet another terrible reminder of the kind of threats Europe's Jews are currently facing."

In France, President Francois Hollande condemned the "horrifying killings with the greatest force." In a statement, he expressed France's solidarity with neighboring Belgium and condolences to the families of victims.

Security around all Jewish institutions in the country has been raised to the highest level, and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo met with police and senior officials to discuss the situation.

On Sunday, Belgium holds a general election and throughout Europe, voters will choose the next European Parliament.

Viviane Teitelbaum, a member of the Brussels legislature, said anti-Semitic attacks reached a peak in the early 1980s but had dropped off before a recent rise in anti-Jewish sentiment.

"It has been a very difficult place to live" for Jews, she said, adding that many young people are leaving the country.

Belgium was hardly a leader among countries of the world in anti-Semitic incidents in the past several years. However, over the last calendar year, Belgian authorities reported a 30 percent rise in complaints related to anti-Semitism.

Further, a European Union survey carried out last year asked Jews about their feelings regarding anti-Semitism. Belgium, Hungary and France fared the worst of all member states.

Last month, Frazier Glenn Miller shot and killed three outside of the Jewish Community Center and a Jewish assisted-living facility in Overland Park, Kansas. Upon his arrest, he shouted "Heil Hitler," and was later revealed to have deep ties to white supremacist organizations.

Reuters, The Associated Press and DPA contributed to this report.

Brussels Jewish MuseumCredit: AFP

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