Anti-Semitism feared in deadly Brussels attack

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BRUSSELS -- An unidentified gunman opened fire Saturday at the Jewish Museum in the center of Brussels, killing at least three people in what officials said appeared to have been an anti-Semitic attack.

Belgium's interior minister, Joelle Milquet, told RTL television that two women and a man were killed in the attack and a fourth person was seriously wounded. She said security was being tightened at Jewish sites across the country.

Ms. Milquet told reporters that the shooter apparently parked a car outside before entering the Jewish Museum. She added the gunman "apparently fired rather quickly, went outside and left."

The three dead people were were struck by bullets in the face or throat, said Ine Van Wymersch, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office. No further details were given.

Mr. Van Wymersch said one suspect was detained after he drove away from the museum around the time of the attack. A second person being sought for questioning left the area on foot. Mr. Van Wymersch said security camera footage was being studied to try to identify the person.

Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders, who was in the neighborhood at the time of the attack, told Belgian television he heard gunfire, rushed to the scene and was "shocked to see bodies lying on the ground." He said investigators still had to determine the motive for the shooting, but added that the fact it took place at the city's Jewish Museum indicated an "anti-Semitic attack." He said a witness had seen the license plate of the gunman's car and reported it to the police.

Maurice Sosnowski, a leader of Belgium's Jewish community, described Saturday's shooting as the first act of anti-Semitic terrorism in the Belgian capital since World War II and compared it to a 2012 shooting that killed four people at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse.

Saturday's shooting occurred on the eve of elections in Belgium for both the national legislature and the European Parliament. Far-right groups, some of which are tainted by a history of anti-Semitism, are expected to perform well in voting for the European legislature, which began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands and comes to an end today in other members of the 28-nation European Union.

In a statement, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU's executive arm, condemned the assault as "an attack on European values which we cannot tolerate." Mr. Barroso has repeatedly warned about the danger of extremism from the rise of right-wing nationalists opposed to European integration.

In Belgium and most other European countries, however, anti-Semitism has in recent years been rooted more on the left and in Muslim immigrant communities than on the right, according to a survey last year by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination. The survey by the Fundamental Rights Agency found that only France and Hungary had higher levels of anti-Semitism than Belgium.

Raya Kalenova, executive vice president of the European Jewish Congress, a group based in Brussels, said anti-Semitism had grown much worse in Belgium over the past decade, in part because of a rise in hostility toward Israel, and added that the authorities had often ignored the danger.

"The spirit of the Jewish people, the Jewish community, here in Belgium is really very, very low," she said. "They do not even report anti-Semitic attacks. They feel that it is useless to report, and they do not feel protected. "

This month, the Belgian authorities banned opponents of Israel from holding a conference in Brussels that Jewish groups condemned as anti-Semitic.

At the time of Saturday's shooting at the Jewish Museum, pro-Palestinian groups were holding a concert and political rally on the other side of Brussels in Parc du Cinquantenaire. Pierre Galand, the head of the Belgian-Palestine Association, interrupted speeches denouncing Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory to request a minute of silence for the victims of the shooting. "This is an extremely odious crime," he told the crowd, denouncing the Jewish Museum attack.

Associated Press contributed.


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