Suspect in Brussels Jewish museum shooting claims responsibility in video


A man arrested on suspicion of killing four people last month at the Jewish Museum of Belgium allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack in a video.

Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said Sunday in a news conference in Brussels that a video found after the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, at a bus and train station in Marseille on Friday includes his voice claiming responsibility for the May 24 attack and murders. Nemmouche had tried to film the attack, according to Van Leeuw, but the camera failed.

Nemmouche was arrested at Marseille’s main train and bus station, Saint-Charles, on May 29 and is being held on suspicion of terrorist activity. He arrived in Marseille aboard a bus that left from Amsterdam via Brussels.

According to TF1, a French television broadcaster, Nemmouche was stopped by customs officers performing routine checks. He declined to open his bag, leading the customs officers to evacuate the bus and check the contents of every bag aboard. The weapons found in the man’s luggage “were arms of the same type used on May 24 in Brussels,” an unnamed source told AFP.

Nemmouche also carried a small, portable video camera and a baseball cap similar to the one that is believed to have been worn by the perpetrator of the Brussels Jewish museum shooting, according to AFP.

Also Sunday, Belgian police took two people in for questioning in connection with the investigation into Nemmouche, according to AFP.

Nemmouche became a radical jihadist while serving a sentence in France in 2009 for armed robbery, TF1 reported. He left France for Belgium in 2012 and from there traveled to Syria.

Nemmouche had spent a total of five years in prison from late 2007 to December of 2012, and had visited the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria after his release. He returned to Europe in March 2014, BFMTV reported Sunday.

Roger Cukierman, president of French Jewry’s umbrella organization CRIF, told the British Independent newspaper that it would be a “huge relief” if Nemmouche is found to be the Brussels killer.

“While he was free, another attack was likely,” Cukierman said. “It seems that the worst fears of Western governments are being realized. The European jihadists in Syria are a time bomb waiting to go off.”

Suspected Brussels Jewish museum shooter arrested in France


Police in Marseille arrested a man whom Belgian police suspect killed four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

The man, aged 29 and identified as Mehdi Nemmouche, was arrested at Marseille’s main train and bus station, Saint-Charles, on May 29 and is currently being held on suspicion of terrorist activity, the news agency AFP reported. He lives in Roubaix, which is located on the border between France and Belgium, 55 miles south of Brussels. He arrived in Marseille aboard a bus that left from Amsterdam via Brussels. The report did not say where he boarded the bus.

The weapons found in the man’s luggage “were arms of the same type used on May 24 in Brussels,” an unnamed source told AFP.

A spokesperson for the Belgian federal police said the man is suspected of killing four people on May 24 at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in central Brussels.

Nemmouche also carried a small, portable video camera and a baseball cap similar to the one that is believed to have been worn by the perpetrator of the Brussels Jewish museum shooting, according to AFP.

Questioned by French police about the content of the digital camera after his arrest in Marseille, Nemmouche is reported to have said, “It’s a shame my camera didn’t work when all the action happened,” according to BFMTV, a Belgian broadcaster.

The Brussels Jewish museum shooter used what looked like an assault rifle to kill two tourists, Emanuel and Mira Riva, a man and his wife from Israel, and a handgun to kill two staffers, Alexandre Strens and Dominique Sabrier. He then fled the scene on foot. According to some reports, he wore a video camera.

French President Francois Hollande congratulated law enforcement officers for the capture.

“I wish to salute the customs officers, the police officers, for performing the arrest,” French media quoted Hollande as saying in a statement Sunday. “We are determined to follow those jihadists and prevent them from causing harm upon returning from a battle that is neither theirs nor ours. We have fought them, we are fighting them and we will fight them.”

“We are very satisfied with the work of the French authorities in finding the perpetrator of the cold-blooded murders last week,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement Sunday. “However, for too long authorities in Europe have acted speedily after the fact, it is now time for all to turn attention and set as the highest priority the prevention of these vicious crimes.”

The man arrested in Marseille, one of the sources told AFP, is believed to have participated in the civil war in Syria in 2013 as a jihadist.

He is being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder, AFP reported.

Belgian police had briefly detained at least two men whom media reported had been interrogated about the shooting and released as part of a massive manhunt launched in Belgium.

According to TF1, a French television broadcaster, Nemmouche was stopped by customs officers performing routine checks. He declined to open his bag, leading the customs officers to evacuate the bus and check the contents of every bag aboard.

It was during that inspection that the customs officers found the weapons and the camera.

Nemmouche may have traveled to Marseille with the intention of boarding a boat to North Africa, TF1 reported.

Nemmouche became a radical jihadist while serving a sentence in France in 2009 for armed robbery, TF1 reported. He left France for Belgium in 2012 and from there traveled to Syria.

Nemmouche had spent a total of five years in prison from late 2007 to December of 2012, and had visited the United Kingdom; Lebanon; Turkey and Syria after his release. He returned to Europe in March 2014, BFMTV reported Sunday.

Belgian Jews shocked, but not surprised, by attack


The cold determination with which the shooter at Belgium’s Jewish museum murdered four people shocked many Belgians, but local Jewish leaders have long anticipated the possibility of such an attack on their community.

The shooter who entered the Jewish Museum of Belgium on May 24 in central Brussels “approached each victim with calm, aiming only for the head without uttering a word in a manner that is shocking because of the level of training it suggests,” said Mischael Modrikamen, the Jewish leader of Belgium’s small, centrist Parti Populaire.

“Sadly, however, the actual attack comes as no surprise to us after years of living in an atmosphere of rampant anti-Semitism that often leads to violence,” he added.

Within hours of the attack, the local Jewish community and the European Jewish Congress’ Brussels-based Security and Crisis Centre were operating a crisis management room complete with a telephone hotline and website — testament to years of preparation for a terrorist attack on one of Europe’s most at-risk communities.

The shooter, who fled the scene along with a driver, used an assault rifle to kill Israeli tourists Mira and Emanuel Riva, a married couple in their 50s; Alexandre Strens, 25, a Belgian man employed by the museum; and Dominique Sabrier, 66, a French woman who volunteered at the museum.

A manhunt is underway to capture the perpetrators of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in Western Europe since the French Islamist Mohammed Merah killed four people, including three children, at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012.

Indeed, the characteristics of the museum attack follow the pattern observed at Toulouse, according to Claude Moniquet, a Brussels-based counterterrorism expert.

“It seems we are dealing with a small cell of operatives — Islamists or otherwise — with a low signature that minimizes their risk of being caught,” he said.

Yet Belgium’s Jews have experience with such violence that predates the Toulouse attack by more than 20 years. 

In 1989, a Moroccan terrorist assassinated the community’s then-president, Joseph Wybran. A 1982 armed attack on Brussels’ largest synagogue, which is located 400 yards from the museum, wounded four. In 1979, 13 people were wounded in an attack on an El Al plane at the Brussels airport.

Some of the worst attacks on Belgian Jewry happened between the years 1979 and 1981, when Arab terrorists killed four people in a series of explosions, including a car bomb, and shootings directed at Jewish targets in Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter.

“That track record means that no one thought this couldn’t happen here,” said Joel Rubinfeld, president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism and the former leader of French-speaking Belgian Jews. “In fact, most of us knew it could and would, especially in recent years. So I am shocked but not in the least surprised.”

In more recent years, Belgium’s Jewish community of about 40,000 — divided more or less equally between Brussels and Antwerp — has suffered from rising anti-Semitism. The level of threat increased after the Second Intifada in the early to mid-2000s, when Belgium began seeing dozens of anti-Semitic attacks each year for the first time since World War II.

“There is a silent exodus from Belgium which is largely attributable to the country’s anti-Semitism problem,” Rubinfeld said. “We are facing an uncertain future and I am concerned.”

The concerns have increased lately not only because of Merah, who inspired a slew of anti-Semitic attacks across the French-speaking world, but also because “of the arrival to the scene of new patrons of anti-Semitism in the French-speaking world,” Rubinfeld said, a reference to Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a French comedian.

Earlier this month, Belgian authorities banned a conference organized in Brussels by several individuals with a track record of promoting anti-Semitism, including Dieudonné, French activist Alain Soral and Belgian lawmaker Laurent Louis.

Rubinfeld said the ban “was the first case of its kind in recent years where we saw a determined stance.” Belgian authorities generally have had “a more lax attitude” toward anti-Semitism than their French counterparts, he said. 

Mischael Modrikamen noted that the police maintained no permanent presence outside the Jewish Museum of Belgium.

“Even when police do place protection, it means two cops in a car parked outside a building and nothing comparable to the security provided in France,” he said.

But Arie Zuckerman, a European-Jewish Congress executive who has spearheaded Jewish communities’ preparations for crises after Toulouse, says the problem is not local.

“When governments perceive a threat, they know how to cooperate tightly and devote enormous resources, and we see this in the war on drugs, for example,” he said. “Sadly, no such pan-European recognition has emerged on the need to protect Jewish institutions, which often have to carry the burden of security costs.

“We saw it in Brussels, where the terrorists probably collected intelligence without being detected, but it could happen in many other places. The tragedy is in Belgium, but the problem is in Europe.”

Two Israelis killed in Brussels shooting


Two of the three people killed in a shooting at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels on Saturday were Israeli tourists, Israel's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry did not give further details on their identities on the victims killed in the shooting, which Belgian officials said may have been an anti-Semitic motivated attack.

Israeli media said the two were a man and a woman, tourists from Tel Aviv.

A spokeswoman for Brussels prosecutors office said there was no clear information about the perpetrator, although a fire brigade official said earlier that the shooter had driven up to the museum, gone inside and fired shots.

“Regarding the motive, we have little information. Everything is possible,” Ine 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.”

Belgium's interior minister, Joëlle Milquet, was quoted by the RTBF Belgian television station, saying: “It's a shooting … at the Jewish Museum … All of this can lead to suspicions of an act of anti-Semitism.”

No details were given on the identity of the third person killed or on the fourth victim, who was wounded and in life-threatening condition. They had been shot in the face and neck, Van Wymersch said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement from his office, strongly condemned the killings. They were, he said, “the result of endless incitement against the Jews and their state.”

Security around all Jewish institutions in the country has been raised to the highest level, and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo met with police and senior officials to discuss the situation.

About half of Belgium's 42,000-strong Jewish community lives in Brussels.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kim Coghill

Police hunt Brussels Jewish Museum gunman, France tightens security


Belgian police were hunting a gunman on Sunday who shot dead two Israelis and a French woman at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in an attack French President Francois Hollande said was without doubt motivated by anti-Semitism.

Security around all Jewish institutions in Belgium was raised to the highest level following Saturday's shooting, while French authorities stepped up security after two Jews were attacked near a Paris synagogue.

Belgian officials released a thirty-second video clip from the museum's security cameras showing a man wearing a dark cap and a blue jacket enter the building, take a Kalashnikov rifle out of a bag, and shoot into a room, before walking out.

“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.


A man holding a weapon inside the Jewish Museum in Brussels on May 24. Photo by Belgian Police via Reuters

Officials appealed for witnesses to the attack in the busy tourist district which is filled with restaurants and antique shops. The entrance to the Jewish museum was lined with flowers and candles, and will remain closed to the public on Monday.

“The anti-Semitic nature of the act – a shooting, with intent to kill, in the Jewish Museum of Brussels – cannot be denied,” said Hollande, speaking about the Brussels attack.

“We must do everything to fight against anti-Semitism and racism,” he told news channel I-Tele on Sunday.

Hours after the Brussels shootings, two Jews were attacked and beaten in Paris as they left a synagogue in the suburb of Creteil wearing traditional Jewish clothing.

POPE CONDEMNS 'SAVAGE ATTACK'

The two Israelis, Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, both in their 50s, were described by friends as former Israeli civil servants who were in Belgium on vacation.

The fate of a Belgian man who was also injured in the shooting remained unclear. The prosecutor's spokeswoman said he was still fighting for his life but an official with the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism said he had died.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo spoke by telephone with Hollande and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and held talks with the Jewish community in Belgium.

Netanyahu, in a statement from his office, strongly condemned the Brussels killings. They were, he said, “the result of endless incitement against the Jews and their state”.

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.

Along with the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services, the agency was under the authority of the prime minister's office.

Miriam Riva also formerly worked for the prime minister's office, the official said without elaborating.

Friends of the couple interviewed by Israeli media said they both worked as accountants in government service.

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.”

At some 550,000, France's Jewish community is the largest in Europe, though violence such as the 2012 murders of three Jewish children and a rabbi by Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah have prompted higher emigration to Israel or elsewhere.

France's Agence Juive, which tracks Jewish emigration, says 1,407 Jews left France for Israel in the first three months of this year, putting 2014 on track to mark the biggest exodus of French Jews to Israel since the country was founded in 1948.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Leila Abboud in Paris, Justyna Pawlak and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell and Sophie Hares