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Belgium Sees Terror Motive in Killings at Jewish Museum

Jewish Museum of Belgium
A boy stands with flowers in front of an Israeli flag and flowers laid in front of the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Photographer: Anthony Dehez/AFP/Getty Images

Terrorism was the likely motive in a deadly attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, government authorities said, as the country appealed for international support in the manhunt for the assailant.

“The analysis of the first images shows a person who seems cold-blooded and apparently determined” in the killing spree that lasted less than 90 seconds, Wenke Roggen, a spokeswoman for Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office, said yesterday in Brussels. “This combined with the fact that the shots were fired inside the Jewish Museum makes us believe that the crimes were committed with a terrorist motive.”

The government raised the threat level at Jewish sites across the nation after the shooting attack on May 24 left three people dead and another fighting for his life. Two Israelis and one French citizen were killed in the attack and a Belgian man was critically injured.

Investigators on May 25 released video footage showing the killer entering the building, pulling a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle from a bag, firing it and then leaving on foot. The federal police posted the tape, along with two shorter videos of the man outside the museum, on the Internet and called on the public to help find the attacker.

‘Terrorist Crimes’

An “additional investigating magistrate specialized in terrorist crimes” is now assisting the probe, Roggen said.

The investigators had no new information to disclose on the identity or nationality of the gunman, she said, adding that the attacker “could be anyone at this point.” Roggen today denied media reports that an arrest had been made in the case, saying the development was in a separate terrorism probe.

The fourth victim of the attack remains in critical condition, Roggen said.

French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi were set to visit the museum, located in the Sablon area of the Belgian capital, today before attending a summit meeting of European leaders. The museum, which had expected to reopen today, will remain closed for several more days and is unlikely to open before early next week, spokesperson Chouna Lomponda told Belga newswire.

The bodies of the Israeli couple killed in the attack, Emanuel and Mira Riva, were flown back to Israel for burial today. The Haaretz newspaper reported today that Emanuel Riva worked as an accountant for Nativ, an Israeli government agency that works to encourage immigration of Russian Jews from the former Soviet Union, sometimes clandestinely.

Killer’s Actions

His wife worked as an accountant for another unidentified government agency, Haaretz said, in the past working “at one of the agency’s missions in Europe.”

“It’s possible that the murder in Brussels was not a hate crime or an anti-Semitic attack, but a targeted assault,” wrote Amir Oren, Haaretz’s reporter on intelligence affairs. “This possibility is strengthened by the video of the killer’s actions. He was caught by the cameras looking like a professional, as if this was a settling of scores. Not the assassination of accountants, but a battle in a covert war, though perhaps there was a misidentification of the intended victims.”

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Jacques Revah, called the extra security at Jewish sites a “sad necessity,” saying the shooting shows “there is a risk that these institutions could be attacked.” While Belgian authorities haven’t confirmed that the killings were antisemitic, “the place chosen, the people chosen, the modus operandi chosen; all that indicates that it wasn’t by chance that it happened at that place,” Revah said in an interview on Sunday at the Israeli embassy in Brussels.

Surveillance Cameras

“Several thousand images of surveillance cameras have been seized and are being analyzed at this moment,” Roggen said. “All our national and international partners have been asked to gather and share any available information that may be related to these crimes.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that “this act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state.” France’s Hollande condemned “the terrible massacre” in Brussels, extending “France’s full solidarity to the Belgian people in this ordeal.”

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo spoke by telephone with Netanyahu and Hollande and expressed his condolences on behalf of the Belgian government, according to the prime minister’s office. “Everything is being done” to hunt down the culprit, Di Rupo said on Saturday.

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