Investigators divided on terror motives in Brussels Jewish Museum shooting

Belgium, France tighten security in wake of attacks; Brussels Jewish Museum gunman still at large; Israeli victims to be buried in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Police personnel are seen at the site of a shooting in central Brussels, May 24, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Police personnel are seen at the site of a shooting in central Brussels, May 24, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Belgium and France have heightened security around Jewish sites, following attacks on Jews in both countries.
On Saturday a lone gunman entered Brussels’ Jewish museum with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and opened fire, killing three people, including two Israeli tourists. A fourth victim died on Monday, according to museum officials who spoke with CNN.
The gunman is still at large.
On Sunday, assailants jumped two Jewish men outside of a Synagogue in town of Creteil, near Paris, beating them with brass knuckles.
There were no fatalities.
Emanuel and Mira Riva, the Israeli couple killed in Brussels, are slated to be buried at Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul cemetery at 5 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon.
Several Belgian Jewish communal leaders are expected to attend the funeral.
An Israeli official said Emmanuel Riva had formerly worked for Nativ, a government agency that played a covert role in fostering Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Government officials and Jewish bodies in Belgium and France have indicated that there has been a marked increase in security around Jewish sites since the attacks, with a heavy police presence around synagogues, community centers and schools.
Many Jewish leaders have called on European nations to do more in combating anti-Semitism while several prominent Israeli politicians, including the prime minister, have linked the attacks to what they say is increasing delegitimization of the Jewish state on the continent.
“One anti-Semitic tragedy on the heels of another underscores the very real dangers for Jews today in the heart of Europe, even as we recognize that the governments stand steadfastly against any such manifestations,” David Harris, American Jewish Committee executive director, said in a statement that expressed a sentiment held by many Jewish groups.
“Clearly, far more still needs to be done – from beefing up security at Jewish institutions to stronger intelligence-gathering, from tougher judicial action to, in the longer term, better education in the school systems for fostering a climate of mutual respect,” he said.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also condemned the attack on Monday, saying through a spokesman that he “reiterates his strong condemnation of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and trusts that Belgian authorities will do everything possible to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime to justice swiftly.”
French President Francois Hollande likewise attributed the violence to bigotry, saying that “the anti-Semitic nature of the act – a shooting with intent to kill in the Jewish Museum of Brussels – cannot be denied.”
Pope Francis, in Tel Aviv on Sunday, condemned the attack in Brussels, where about half of Belgium’s 42,000-strong Jewish community lives.
“With a deeply saddened heart, I think of all of those who lost their lives in yesterday’s savage attack in Brussels,” he said. “In renewing my deep sorrow for this criminal act of anti-Semitic hatred, I commend to our merciful God the victims and pray for the healing of those wounded.”
While many have attributed the attack to anti-Semitism, including senior Belgian political figures, investigators have yet to conclusively determine the shooter’s motives.
“From the images we have seen, we can deduce that the perpetrator probably acted alone and was well prepared,” said Ine Van Wymersch, a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor’s office.
“It’s still too early to confirm whether it’s a terrorist or an anti-Semitic attack; all lines of investigation are still open,” she told a news conference.
But later, a police statement said that authorities were treating the incident as a terror attack. Given the circumstances surrounding the attack, local investigators have decided to pass the case on to investigators from the national government.
The gunman was “cold-blooded and very determined,” officials said on Monday, leading some security experts to suggest he may have been a hit man rather than an anti-Semitic “lone wolf.”
“The footage shows an individual who acts in cold blood and is very determined,” said Van Wymersch, adding that she was handing the case to federal investigators, a mark of its severity.
“The identity and nationality of the victims is an additional reason to hand the case to the federal level,” she said.
Prosecutors said they were investigating all scenarios and would not speculate on the identity or motive of the gunman.
But some terrorism and security experts said the way in which the assailant carried out the killings suggested planning and execution by a specialist.
Edwin Bakker, professor at the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said the gunman’s calm manner indicated he had experience.
He added that no organization had claimed responsibility for the attack, suggesting it was not an act of terrorism.
“People use the word terrorism very quickly but when I saw the images I thought this is a hit man,” Bakker said.
Other analysts dismissed the notion that this was some kind of contract killing, saying the daylight attack indicated it was more likely a random attack on Jews.
“I don’t think a professional hit man would have done it this way. It was a guy who was deranged, who had been planning on doing something like this and did it,” said Robert Ayers, a former US intelligence officer.
Rolf Tophoven, an analyst at the Institute of Crisis Prevention in Essen, Germany, drew a parallel with the killing of two US airmen at Frankfurt Airport in 2011 by a young Kosovo Albanian Muslim who had been radicalized online.
“We call this leaderless jihad, people who radicalize themselves on the Internet,” said Tophoven, laying out the “lone wolf” scenario. “It would be the story of the autonomous terrorist whom nobody had on their radar screens, whom nobody knew.”
Belgian Jewish leaders who spoke to The Jerusalem Post said that it was impossible at the moment to identify the killer either as an Islamic extremist or as a native anti-Semite, but said that both scenarios were equally possible.
According to Tel Aviv University anti-Semitism researcher, Prof. Dina Porat, who spoke with the Post on Sunday, until this weekend violence was not a major part of the Belgian Jewish landscape, but other forms of anti-Semitic expression have been on the rise.
“In Belgium,” she said, “the case was more of bad atmosphere, harassment, incitement [and] threats.”
According to a report put out by Kantor and her colleagues at the university’s Kantor Center recently, the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide in 2013 occurred in France, with 116 distinct incidents counted.
According to research by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 77 percent of Jews polled across the continent did not bother reporting abuse or harassment, indicating that the rate of attacks may be higher than the official figures.
Aliya from France has rapidly grown over the past year, with 854 new immigrants arriving in the first two months of 2014, the Jewish Agency for Israel announced in March.