The couple, tourists in their 50s from Tel Aviv, were not carrying any identifying documents; a fourth victim died of his wounds overnight.
Lior Zilberstein, Itamar Eichner
Two of the four people killed in the shooting at the Brussels Jewish Museum Saturday were an Israeli couple in their 50s, the Foreign Ministry said overnight.
The two were not carrying any personal documents with them, so it took hours to identify them.
The other two killed were employees at the museum. One of the casualties suffered critical wounds to the face and neck and passed away from his wounds overnight.
Following the shooting, Belgium’s interior minister, Joelle Milquet, said Saturday night that anti-terror measures had immediately been heightened around all Jewish institutions in the country as a precaution.
“We decided to apply to a maximum level of protection to Jewish sites,” she said.
Ine Van Wymersch, a spokeswoman for Brussels prosecutors office, said there was no clear information about the perpetrator, although a fire brigade official said earlier that a man drew up to the museum in an Audi, exited the car and opened fire. He then reportedly reentered the car and fled the scene.
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 president of one of the Jewish organizations in Belgium told Ynet that the entrance to the museum, where the shooting occurred, did not have a security guard.
“Regarding the motive, we have little information. Everything is possible,” Van Wymersch told a news conference.
“We know that the location, the Jewish Museum in Brussels, makes one think of it being an anti-Semitic attack, but we do not have enough to confirm this is the case.”
A source claimed the police will likely deem the incident anti-Semitic Sunday.
Van Wymersch said one suspect was detained after he drove away from the museum around the time of the attack.
“One person was seen leaving the scene of the crime and entering a car. We identified him and arrested him. We still don’t know if he is directly linked to the attack,” she said.
A second person being sought for questioning left the area on foot. Van Wymersch added security camera footage was being studied to try to identify the person.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo held a press conference on Saturday, condemning the attack: “All Belgians are united against the heinous crime at the Jewish Museum.”
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo at the scene of the shooting (Photo: AFP)
The head of the Jewish community in Belgium, Julian Kllener, told Ynet: “The entire Jewish community is in shock. We did not get any special warnings from the police and the attack caught us by surprise. The Jewish community is in good standing with everyone, even the Muslim community.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the shooting, saying it was the result of “of endless incitement against Jews and their state.”
“Slander and lies against the State of Israel continue to be heard on European soil even as the crimes against humanity and acts of murder being perpetrated in our region are systematically ignored. Our response to this hypocrisy is to constantly state the truth, continue a relentless fight against terrorism and build up our strength,” Netanyahu said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who was in the vicinity, said the scene “was terrible and left me shocked” as he saw the bodies of two of the victims lying at the entrance of the museum, located in the swanky Sablon neighborhood of Belgium’s capital.
Reynders said that “you cannot help to think that when we see a Jewish museum, you think of an anti-Semitic act. But the investigation will have to show the causes.”
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said that, even though it has yet to be established whether the attack was anti-Semitic, “we are acutely aware of the permanent threat to Jewish targets in Belgium and across the whole of Europe.”
“European governments must send out a clear message of zero tolerance toward any manifestation of anti-Semitism,” Kantor said in a statement.
The attack, which took place shortly before 4 pm, occurred in the Sablon area, which was hosting a three-day jazz festival and is usually clogged with tourists and shoppers on weekends. It has cobblestone streets with numerous antique shops, trendy cafes and museums, including the Jewish Museum.
Viviane Teitelbaum, a member of the Brussels legislature, said anti-Semitic attacks reached a peak in the early 1980s but had dropped off, but she noted a recent rise in anti-Jewish sentiment.
“It has been a very difficult place to live” for Jews, she said, adding that many young people are leaving the country. She said some 42,000 Jews live in Belgium, half of whom reside in Brussels.
Simone Susskind, another Brussels politician, said the museum has been at its current site for around a decade, after moving from an old synagogue in southern Brussels. She said her late husband David was a driving force behind the museum’s creation, believing that as home of the European Union and self-proclaimed “capital of Europe,” Brussels needed a museum to recount the history of Belgium’s Jewish community.
In neighboring France, President Francois Hollande condemned the “horrifying killings with the greatest force.” In a statement, he expressed France’s solidarity with Belgium and offered condolences to the families of the victims.
Jewish community officials drew parallels between the shooting and the 2012 killing of four Jews in a school in France by an al-Qaeda-inspired gunman, Mohamed Merah.
“This really reminds of what you experienced in France with Mr. Merah attacking a Jewish school,” Maurice Sosnowski, president of the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations, was quoted saying by BFM TV.
“This is appalling. I would never have imagined something like that happening in Brussels.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder urged Belgian authorities to protect Jewish sites in the country.
“Two years after Toulouse…this despicable attack is yet another terrible reminder of the kind of threats Europe’s Jews are currently facing.”
Reuters, the Associated Press, Itay Blumental, Attila Somfalvi and Moran Azulay contributed to this report.