Man kills three at Jewish Museum in Brussels

Summary

Three victims died at the scene in central Brussels on Saturday, and a fourth is in critical condition in hospital

Police appeal for information

An unidentified gunman shot four members of the public in and around the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels on Saturday, killing three at the scene. Another man is in critical condition in a local hospital. Police have issued photos and security footage of the attacker and appealed for witnesses.

On Saturday, 24 May, at 15.50, a man got out of a car and entered the passageway leading to the Jewish Museum in Miniemenstraat, near the Zavel. After firing several shots, the man ran off. Pedestrians in the immediate vicinity saw four people shot in the face or head. Two died instantly, and one at the scene later.

Two of the victims were an Israeli couple in their 50s from Tel Aviv, a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry said. The woman who died at the scene was a French national, while the fourth victim is reported to be a 25-year-old man who worked at the museum.

Footage from a security camera inside the entrance to the museum shows a man of medium build in a flat cap wielding what appears to be a Kalashnikov rifle several times and then running away into Miniemenstraat, carrying a messenger bag and sports bag. Another film shows the man wearing a lilac pullover and grey cap and trousers. Police appealed for people who may recognise the man to call the free number 0800 30 300.

Soon after the incident, a man suspected of being the shooter was arrested, but he was quickly re-categorised as a witness and released after questioning.

Federal foreign minister Didier Reynders happened to be in the street at the time and heard the shots. He later described how he had run towards the scene and saw victims in the street. Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters said he had reacted with horror when he learned of such “incomprehensible and absolutely senseless brutality.” King Filip, meanwhile, was reported to be “dismayed”.

Brussels-Capital Region minister Guy Vanhengel said the incident was “incomprehensible”. Secretary of state Bruno De Lille warned of the danger of such an attack setting one community against the other. “Brussels has been touched in its heart and must come together as never before,” said Pascal Smet, Flemish minister for Brussels affairs. 

Reactions to the shooting came from around the world. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the killings were “the direct result of a permanent incitement to hatred of Jews and the state of Israel. Pope Francis, speaking in Tel Aviv, expressed his “deep sorrow” and echoed calls for an end to anti-Semitism. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte sent condolences to his Belgian counterpart, Elio Di Rupo, and to Netanyahu. British PM David Cameron expressed his sympathy for victims and their families.

The following day, two people were killed in a similar shooting in Paris. “We must more than ever mobilise against racism and anti-Semitism,” said French president François Hollande.

Across Belgium, security has been heightened in Jewish quarters, particularly in Antwerp, with a large Jewish community. “We want to be as well prepared as possible, should anything happen in Antwerp as well,” spokesperson Veerle de Vries said. “There’s an increased alert in the diamond quarter all year round, and now that alert has been raised to the highest level for the rest of the city.”

A spokesperson for the museum said the attack was “a real tragedy for our institution”, adding: “We have every confidence in the Belgian authorities, in police and in the justice system – that they will solve this terrible crime quickly.”

The museum is closed on Mondays, but the spokesperson said it would reopen on Tuesday as normal. “The staff and the board will be present,” he said.

Photo: Reuters/Eric Vidal