Three people were shot dead and one gravely wounded by an unknown killer yesterday afternoon in the Jewish Museum in the heart of Brussels. The incident, that looked very much as an act of anti-Semitism, brought the electoral campaign in Belgium to a sudden end. The author of the crime is still at large.
The Jewish Museum nearby the very fashionable Zavel in Brussels is a quiet little museum, with collections of former synagogues. It is as much a guide to Europe’s past, seen from the point of view of its fragile Jewish communities. It has some protective measures, such as camera’s and a protection against an attack by car. But as it was open to all public, it was only permanently protected by police on events with large Jewish attendance. It may therefore have been chosen as a target, instead of the nearby Great Synagoge of Brussels.
At 3:50 PM yesterday an Audi car stopped in front of the museum. One man came out, entered into the museum and shot two visitors, an Israëli’s couple, Mr and Ms. Riva, aged 54 and 53, from Tel-Aviv, and two employees of the museum: one 60-year old French women, who worked as a volunteer, and a 23-years old Belgian employee. The shooter meticulously aimed at the heads of the victims. The first three died immediately, the fourth one is still struggling for his life in the nearby Saint-Pierre-hospital. The perpetrator then ran out of the museum and disappeared in the small streets of this old city-quarter.
It was the Belgian deputy prime minister Didier Reynders, who was just campaigning on the Zavel, who called the ambulances. Politicians of all parties came to the scene and immediately condemned the attack. Jewish leaders of Belgium reacted angrily about what they saw as a clear act of anti-Semitism. At a brief press conference in the evening, the prime minister, Mr. Elio di Rupo, the minister of Justice, Ms. Annemie Turtelboom, and the minister of the Interior, Ms. Joëlle Milquet, all expressed their belief that anti-Semitism was a likely motive, but also stressed that only the judicial inquiry could confirm this. This Sunday the police will bring out a portrait of the perpetrator, based on the camera images in the museum.
The attack pushed all electoral news to the background of news media. The Flemish commercial television cancelled its last debate between party presidents. Most politicians ended their campaign.