BRUSSELS (AFP) - Belgian police appealed on Sunday to the public for help in hunting down a gunman who shot dead four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, triggering fears of a resurgence of anti-Semitic violence.
Three chilling videos released by police show the man entering the building, taking a Kalashnikov automatic rifle from a bag and opening fire – all in less than two minutes.
The man was described as being of medium height and athletic build. He carried out the attack deliberately and unhurriedly, leaving the scene on foot.
“The priority of priorities is to find this man. He must be arrested and stopped,” said Home Affairs Minister Joelle Milquet.
“We must reassure members of the Jewish community,” she added, after ordering 24/7 police protection at all of the country’s synagogues, schools and cultural centres.
An Israeli tourist couple and two museum staff – a French woman and a Belgian man – died from gunshots to the face and neck after the man fired two rounds of automatic fire inside the museum on Saturday afternoon before escaping on foot.
The first such attack in more than 30 years in Belgium, it has revived fears of a return of anti-Semitism to Europe, with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu lashing out at Europe’s “hypocrisy” in its attitude to the Jewish state.
Speaking on arrival in Israel, Pope Francis said he was deeply saddened by the attack. “My thoughts go out to those who lost their lives in the attack in Brussels,” he said.
The attack in the busy heart of Brussels, minutes away from a packed streetside jazz festival, came as the country headed into a crucial general election held alongside a vote for the European parliament.
“An election day is usually a celebration of democracy. Today it is clouded,” said Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. “It is on everyone’s mind.” “In Belgium we are not accustomed to such acts of barbarity.”
In Paris, where authorities said two Jews were assaulted late Saturday outside a synagogue in a Paris suburb, the government too ordered tighter security for Jewish institutions across France.
Some 40,000 Jews live in Belgium, roughly half in Brussels and the remainder in the port city of Antwerp.
Flowers and candles were laid out in front of the museum on Sunday as mourners trickled by to pay respects. Several hundred people turned out in Paris and Brussels to pay homage to the dead.
“It would be terribly dangerous to see a new surge of anti-Semitism, be it from the far right or from Muslim extremists,” said 66-year-old Colette Gradom who trembled with emotion as she laid a bunch of flowers at the scene.
“We feel that these actions are the outcome of a long period of hate speech against the Jews,” said Rabbi Avi Tawil, who heads the European Jewish Community Centre.
The head of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, who met premier Di Rupo on Sunday, stressed that the attack took place two years after the killing of four Jews, including three children, in the French city of Toulouse.
There was no security at the museum leading up to the attack and Jewish community leaders said there had been no threats.
The Jewish Museum of Belgium is in the heart of the Sablon district which is home to top antique dealers. The area is a popular weekend haunt for shoppers and tourists.
In 1982 a gunman opened fire at the entrance of the synagogue in Brussels, wounding four people, two seriously.