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Belgium hunts gunman as attack claims fourth victim

  • A man walks in front of the Jewish Museum, site of a shooting in central Brussels May 25, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

BRUSSELS: An attack on a Brussels Jewish Museum claimed a fourth victim Sunday as Belgian police carried out a manhunt for the gunman, releasing chilling video footage of the shooting.

An Israeli tourist couple and two museum staff -- a French woman and a Belgian man -- died from gunshots to the face and neck after a man fired inside the museum on Saturday afternoon before escaping later on foot.

The Israeli couple and the French woman, who worked as a volunteer, died at the scene. The Belgian, who was in his 20s and worked at the museum's reception, was rushed to hospital critically injured and died on Sunday afternoon.

The first such attack in more than 30 years in Belgium has revived fears of a return of anti-Semitism to Europe, with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu lashing out at Europe's "hypocrisy" in its attitude to the Jewish state.

Speaking on arrival in Israel, Pope Francis said he was deeply saddened by the attack. "My thoughts go out to those who lost their lives in the attack in Brussels," he said. "I entrust the victims to God."

Appealing to the public for help in finding the shooter, deputy public prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch said he "probably" acted alone and was "well prepared and well armed."

Police released three videos of the suspect -- in sunglasses, a cap and blue shirt -- walking into the museum with two bags, removing an automatic rifle, shooting through a door, and then walking away again.

Van Wymersch said that as there was no claim for the shooting.

"I cannot confirm that it is a terrorist or anti-Semitic act" but "all leads remain open."

French President Francois Hollande, who along with Netanyahu had a phone conversation with the Belgian premier, said he had no doubt about the "anti-Semitic character" of the attack.

Netanyahu, welcoming Pope Francis in the Holy Land, hailed the pontiff for his "determined stance against anti-Semitism, especially in light of the growing hatred of Jews that we are witness to in these days."

- Synagogues under guard 24/7 -

The attack in the busy heart of Brussels, minutes away from a packed streetside jazz festival, came as the country headed into a crucial general election held alongside a vote for the European parliament.

"An election day is usually a celebration of democracy. Today it is clouded," said Belgium's Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. "It is on everyone's mind."

"In Belgium we are not accustomed to such acts of barbarity."

Some 40,000 Jews live in Belgium, roughly half in Brussels and the remainder in the port city of Antwerp.

Condemning the "terrible act" in the city which hosts EU and NATO headquarters, European Commission president said: "This was an attack at European values which we cannot tolerate."

Flowers and candles were laid out in front of the museum on Sunday as mourners trickled by to pay respects.

"It would be terribly dangerous to see a new surge of anti-Semitism, be it from the far right or from Muslim extremists," said 66-year-old Colette Gradom who trembled with emotion as she laid a bunch of flowers at the scene.

"We feel that these actions are the outcome of a long period of hate speech against the Jews," said Rabbi Avi Tawil, who heads the European Jewish Community Centre.

The head of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, met premier Di Rupo on Sunday after talks with community leaders and Home Affairs Minister Joelle Milquet.

The government was beefing up protection with 24/7 police protection at schools, synagogues and cultural centres in line with a decision to place Jewish institutions under maximum security, Milquet said.

"These measures will remain in place for now," a government statement said.

There was no security at the museum leading up to the attack and Jewish community leaders said there had been no threats.

- 'Pools of blood' -

Police late Saturday detained and interrogated a person who was thought to have driven the gunman to the scene in an Audi.

He said he was at the scene at the time of the attack but denied involvement and was released.

Van Wymersch had said that police believed two men were involved -- one who drove away from the scene in a car and was in police custody and one who escaped on foot and who had not yet been identified.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders saw two bodies at the entrance and said the two other victims had been shot further inside the museum.

He said he had been on a stroll nearby when he saw people fleeing and heard shots and rushed to help.

The Jewish Museum of Belgium is in the heart of the Sablon district which is home to top antique dealers. The area is a popular weekend haunt for shoppers and tourists.

In 1982 a gunman opened fire at the entrance of the synagogue in Brussels, wounding four people, two seriously.

Saturday's attack took place two years after the killing of four Jews, including three children, in the French city of Toulouse.

French authorities said two Jews were assaulted late Saturday outside a synagogue in a Paris suburb.

The French interior ministry has ordered tighter security for Jewish institutions across France.

The videos can be viewed at: http://www.polfed-fedpol.be/ops/ops_teidentificerendetail_fr.php?RecordID=1121

 
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Summary

An attack on a Brussels Jewish Museum claimed a fourth victim Sunday as Belgian police carried out a manhunt for the gunman, releasing chilling video footage of the shooting.

An Israeli tourist couple and two museum staff -- a French woman and a Belgian man -- died from gunshots to the face and neck after a man fired inside the museum on Saturday afternoon before escaping later on foot.

The first such attack in more than 30 years in Belgium has revived fears of a return of anti-Semitism to Europe, with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu lashing out at Europe's "hypocrisy" in its attitude to the Jewish state.

Some 40,000 Jews live in Belgium, roughly half in Brussels and the remainder in the port city of Antwerp.

There was no security at the museum leading up to the attack and Jewish community leaders said there had been no threats.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders saw two bodies at the entrance and said the two other victims had been shot further inside the museum.

Saturday's attack took place two years after the killing of four Jews, including three children, in the French city of Toulouse.


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