Police personnel are seen at the site of a shooting in central Brussels, May 24, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Four people were killed at a Jewish museum in Belgium on Saturday in an attack that European Jewish leaders are already comparing to 2012’s massacre at the Ozar HaTorah school in Toulouse, France.
The attack, which took place at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels on Saturday, is being approached as racially motivated by Belgian authorities, who posited that it was motivated by anti-Semitism.
Belgium's interior minister, Joëlle Milquet, was quoted saying by the RTBF Belgian television station that anti-Semitic motives could be behind the attack.
"It's a shooting ... at the Jewish Museum," she was quoted saying. "All of this can lead to suspicions of an act of anti-Semitism.”
Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur told the BBC as stating that the shooting was likely a terror attack and that the choice of location “isn't a coincidence.”
About half of Belgium's 42,000-strong Jewish community lives in Brussels.
A spokesman for the Brussels fire brigade said the shooter drove up to the museum, went inside and fired shots.
"According to the information we have at the moment, it was a solitary shooter and it seems to have happened inside the museum," Pierre Meys, Brussels fire brigade spokesman, told French channel BFM TV.
Security around all Jewish institutions in the country has been raised to the highest level, and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo was meeting with police and senior officials to discuss the situation.
According to the European Jewish Congress, a crisis center organized by the Consistoire Central and the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations (CCOJB) along with other communal leaders has opened and is in contact with local and national authorities.
Speaking with the Jerusalem Post, Consistoire head Baron Julien Klener said that he had met with the Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and other senior officials and that authorities are “trying to find the suspects.”
Maurice Sosnowski, president of the CCOJB, compared the incident to the 2012 shooting of four Jews in a school in France by an Qaeda-inspired gunman, Mohamed Merah.
"This really reminds of what you experienced in France with Mr. Merah attacking a Jewish school," he was quoted saying by BFM TV. "This is appalling. I would never have imagined something like that happening in Brussels."
He said no threats have been issued to the Jewish community.
European and international Jewish organizations were quick to compare the two assaults.
“Two years after Toulouse, and on the eve of the European elections, this despicable attack is yet another terrible reminder of the kind of threats Europe’s Jews are currently facing,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement shortly after the shooting. The attack was “clearly was targeted at Jews.”
“Tomorrow, we must all work together to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. If that means to improve security at Jewish sites in Europe, we have no choice. It must be done. If not, more people may be able to carry out such terrible crimes,” he added.
According to EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor, while details of the attack are still lacking, it is clear that it is indicative of a “permanent threat to Jewish targets in Belgium and across the whole of Europe.”
"This is once again, much like the savage murders in Toulouse, a clear example of where hate and anti-Semitism leads. European government must send out a clear message of zero tolerance towards any manifestation of anti-Semitism."
Kantor recently made waves by stating that without a significant reduction in the fear and insecurity plaguing European Jewry, normative Jewish life on the continent is “unsustainable.”
“Incidents such as this do not occur in a vacuum, and are the direct result of a systematic culture of hate and anti-Semitism against the Jewish community and the State of Israel in so many parts of Europe, including Belgium,” the Israeli Jewish Congress asserted.
A spokesman for the organization pointed out that according to a recent Anti-Defamation League Study, 27 percent of Belgians harbor anti-Semitic sentiments.
According to the ADL, Belgium comes in as the sixty third most anti-Semitic country out of one hundred territories polled around the world.
The shooting comes less than a day before polls open across Europe for elections to the European Union Parliament, with parties on the hard right expected to gain a significant plurality, though far from a majority, of mandates.