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Brussels gunman kills three at Jewish museum in 'anti-Semitic attack'

Gunman flees after opening fire in tourist district of Brussels; community leaders brand the shooting an anti-Semitic attack

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 9:19am
 

Three people were killed and one badly injured when a gunman attacked the Jewish Museum in the centre of Brussels yesterday, authorities said.

"Two women and one man are dead, a third person is in hospital," Interior Minister Joelle Milquet said at the scene. "We don't yet know if they were tourists or staff."

Asked whether she believed it was an anti-Semitic attack, she said it was too early to say as a police inquiry was under way, but given the target "there are strong grounds for presuming so".

A Jewish community figure, Joel Rubinfeld, said it clearly "is a terrorist act" after two men were seen driving up and double-parking outside the museum.

The gunman opened fire, allegedly shooting indiscriminately before getting away.

Rubinfeld, who heads the country's anti-Semitic League, said the act was the result of "a climate of hate".

Reports said the driver was picked up within three hours of the shooting, which took place at around 4pm. There was no confirmation from police.

A bystander, Alain Sobotik, said he saw the corpses of a young woman and a man just inside the doors of the museum.

Also at the scene shortly after the shooting was Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who said the two other victims had been shot inside the museum.

"I hope we will identify those responsible very quickly," he said.

Reynders said he had been nearby when he saw people fleeing and heard shots,

When he saw "bodies on the ground in pools of blood" he called the 112 emergency number and rounded up eye-witnesses to assist the police.

"I am shocked by the murders committed at the Jewish museum, I am thinking of the victims I saw there and their families," Reynders said on Twitter.

The Jewish Museum of Belgium is located in the heart of the Sablon district, which is home to the city's top antique dealers.

It is a popular weekend haunt for shoppers and tourists.

Police quickly cordoned off the area.

The head of Belgium's Jewish Consistory told La Libre that "it is probably a terrorist act. For us it is an extremely serious act."

He said the museum's staff "are in shock".

Milquet said the government had moved to increase protection at Jewish buildings as well as the Israeli embassy.

The attack comes on the eve of elections in Belgium for a new federal government as well as for its regional parliaments and the European Parliament.

With 26 million people out of work across the EU, polls show strong support for Eurosceptic and far-right parties with their anti-immigration platforms.

Earlier this month, Belgian authorities banned a planned gathering of far-right figures including the French comic Dieudonne, after it was slammed by Jewish groups as an "anti-Semitic hatefest".

Citing security risks, the mayor of the Brussels district of Anderlecht banned the meeting and street protests connected to it.

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