Belgian authorities yesterday were hunting for a gunman who killed three people including two Israelis during an attack on the Jewish Museum in the center of Brussels.
One other person was badly wounded in Saturday’s attack, which was denounced by Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, top European officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Yigal Palmor, who identified two of the victims as an Israeli couple visiting as tourists from Tel Aviv, said yesterday that Israel was confident the Belgian authorities would “look into this horrible crime.”
Di Rupo told a news conference that Belgians stood “united ... faced with this hateful attack,” while Belgian King Philip expressed his “indignation over this act of violence closely affecting the Jewish community.”
It was the first fatal attack on a Jewish center since the early 1980s in Belgium, home to about 40,000 Jews. Roughly half live in Brussels and the remainder in Antwerp.
In Israel, Netanyahu said the murder “is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state.”
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso condemned “this terrible act” in the heart of the European capital, saying: “This was an attack at European values which we cannot tolerate.”
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said there “must be no impunity for terrorism.”
Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milquet said at the scene of the attack that two women and one man were killed and another person was in hospital.
Asked whether she believed it was an anti-Semitic attack, Milquet replied that it was too early to say, but that given the target “there are strong grounds for presuming so.”
The attack came on the eve of elections in Belgium for a new federal government as well as for its regional parliaments and the European Parliament.
A deputy public prosecutor, Ine Van Wymersch, said police were interrogating a person who admitted having been at the scene at the time of the attack, but denied involvement.
The person was initially interrogated as a suspect, but later questioned as a witness, the public prosecutors’ office said.
An inquiry was opened into “murder with premeditation.”
Van Wymersch said police believed two men were involved — one who drove away from the scene in a car and was in police custody and one who fled on foot and who had not yet been identified.
“This is an odious attack,” Di Rupo said. “Everything is being done ... to identify and arrest its author or authors.”
A Jewish community figure, Joel Rubinfeld, told reporters that it clearly “is a terrorist act” after the two men were seen driving up and double-parking outside the museum.
One opened fire, allegedly shooting indiscriminately first in the entrance hall and then further inside before getting away.
The area around the museum was closed off and security strengthened across the country in places associated with the Jewish community, Milquet said.
The shooting took place at about 4pm, with those killed apparently shot in the face and throat.
The fourth victim is in an “extremely critical” condition, Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur told the Belga news agency yesterday.
A bystander, Alain Sobotik, told reporters that he saw the corpses of a young woman and a man just inside the doors of the museum.
A picture shows them lying in pools of blood.
“The young woman had blood on her head. She was still holding a leaflet in her hand, she looked like a tourist,” he said.
Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders saw the two corpses at the entrance and said the two other people had been shot further inside the museum. He said he had been strolling nearby when he saw people fleeing and heard shots and rushed to help.
When he saw “bodies on the ground in pools of blood” he called the 112 emergency number and rounded up eyewitnesses. While stopping short of calling it an anti-Semitic act, Reynders said “evidently one thinks of that.”