On 24 May 2014, a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, Belgium, killing four people. Three died at the scene; a fourth was taken to the hospital and died on 6 June. The attack is being investigated as terrorism by Belgian authorities.
On 30 May, Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national of Algerian origin, was arrested at Marseille in connection with the shooting. He is believed to have spent over a year in Syria and had links with radical Islamists.
A man wearing a cap, carrying several bags and armed with a handgun and a Kalashnikov rifle arrived at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, near the Sablon in central Brussels, at around half past three. He then opened fire, killing three people on site and critically wounding a fourth, who was soon taken to hospital. He later died of his injuries on 6 June. The attack lasted less than 90 seconds, after which the shooter fled the scene on foot and was partially captured by security cameras. According to police, he headed into a different part of downtown Brussels before disappearing. According to security camera footage, the attacker appeared to wear a baseball-type cap covering-up his head, and a chest-mounted camera, like Mohammed Merah, who filmed his acts during the 2012 Toulouse and Montauban shootings, although it was stated that the camera failed during filming.
The Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders, happened to be in the vicinity of the museum and heard the gunshots. The Minister of the Interior, Joëlle Milquet, was also nearby and arrived on the scene a few minutes later.
Four people were killed in the shooting. Two of the victims were Israelis, Emanuel and Miriam Riva, a middle-aged couple on holiday from Tel Aviv, while a French woman named Dominique Sabrier was the third victim.
A young Belgian man who worked at the museum, Alexandre Strens, was critically wounded and eventually died of his wounds on 6 June. He was born in Morocco to a Jewish mother and Algerian Berber father, and his body was returned to Taza, Morocco, for burial in a Muslim cemetery.
A nationwide manhunt was launched for the attacker, who was described as being of medium height and athletic build, and wearing a dark baseball cap. His image, partly obscured, was captured on CCTV. A man who was seen driving from the museum was detained, but released after questioning, and remains a witness in the investigation. Deputy prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch said the shooter “probably acted alone, was armed and well prepared.” She stated that the motive for the attack was still “open”. The attack was being investigated as a terrorist incident.
Mehdi Nemmouche (born 17 April 1985), a 29-year-old French national, was arrested on 30 May at the Saint-Charles railway station in Marseille in connection with the shooting. Nemmouche is suspected to have returned to France from fighting for Islamist rebels in the Syrian Civil War in 2013. He appears to have recorded a video bearing the flag of the rebel group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Nemmouche was born in Roubaix. His father abandoned his mother before he was born and he was raised primarily by his grandmother and in group homes. Prior to leaving for Syria, he already had a long criminal history, including arrests for armed robbery, vehicle theft, and vandalism. He reportedly told hostages in Syria he was planning an attack in Paris on Bastille Day.
He had previously spent five years in prison where he is suspected to have been influenced by Islamic teachings. He left for Syria only three weeks after being released from prison in September 2012. If proven guilty, he will be the first European volunteer in the Syrian war who committed attacks upon returning to Europe. A number of items were recovered from a bag he was carrying while being detained, including a Kalashnikov rifle, a .38 Special revolver, nearly 330 rounds of ammunition for both weapons, gun parts, cameras, clothing, and a gas mask. A hidden file containing a 40-second video was discovered in one of the cameras; in it, Nemmouche’s weapons are recorded and a voice, believed to belong to Nemmouche by police, claimed responsibility for the museum shooting in an audio commentary. He was said to have had a white sheet emblazoned with the name of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Nemmouche, who has Algerian as well as French citizenship, resisted extradition to Belgium. He has denied the charges against him. On 29 July 2014, Nemmouche was extradited to Belgium.
Analysis of a telephone call made by Abdelhamid Abaaoud established that he was in contact with Nemmouche during January 2014. Abaaoud was the ringleader of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris that occurred on 13 November 2015.
– – Government
Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo condemned the attack. “In Belgium we are not accustomed to such acts of barbarity,” he said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who arrived at the museum shortly after the shooting, wrote on Twitter: “Shocked by the murders committed at the Jewish Museum, my thoughts go to the victims that I saw on the site and their families”.
Minister of the Interior, Joëlle Milquet speculated that anti-Semitism might be behind the shootings and Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur described them as a likely terrorist attack.
Belgian politician Mischaël Modrikamen, leader of a small conservative party and himself a member of Belgium’s Jewish community, said “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.”
– – Organizations
Joel Rubinfeld of the Belgian League Against Antisemitism described the act as “the inevitable result of a climate that distills hatred… it will be necessary to use all legal means to silence the preachers of this hate who are responsible for spreading this virus of anti-Jewish hatred”, specifically mentioning the anti-Zionist and Holocaust-denying representative, Laurent Louis, and controversial Black French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Louis denied Rubinfeld’s accusations, suggesting that the attack could have been a false flag operation seeking to discredit him and his political party, Debout Les Belges! (Rise Up, Belgians), on the eve of the Belgian federal elections.
The League of Muslims in Belgium condemned the attack as “barbaric”. In a statement the league said, “These crimes with racist and anti-Semitic accents are unfortunately likely to reverse in our country the efforts of all those who, on a daily basis, are working for a society where everyone, regardless of his religious and philosophical beliefs, can live in dignity and respect.”
– – Countries
France – French President François Hollande condemned the “horrifying killings with the greatest force.” In a statement, he expressed France’s solidarity with neighboring Belgium and condolences to the families of victims.
Holy See – Pope Francis, who was visiting the Middle East at the time of the attacks, said he was deeply saddened by the killings in “this criminal act of anti-Semitic hatred”. “My thoughts go out to those who lost their lives in the attack in Brussels,” he said. “I entrust the victims to God.”
Israel – Israeli President Shimon Peres also called upon European leaders to act against “any form of anti-Semitism” which he said was “rearing its head across the continent”. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman blamed anti-Israel incitement, especially in Europe, for the shooting, stating, “There are elements in Europe that rush to condemn the construction of a flat in Jerusalem but who do not rush to condemn, or offer only a weak condemnation of the murder of Jews here or in Europe itself.” He praised Elio Di Rupo, who telephoned to express condolences and update the Israeli leader on the investigation. Lieberman further stated that the attack was the result of European antisemitism and incitement against the Jewish State.
Italy – Italian President Giorgio Napolitano recalled “the needing to keep in guard and be ready to wear out every regurgitation of antisemitism” and declared “I am always close to the world of Jewish communities yet again harshly hit”. Ministry of Interior Angelino Alfano declared “Dead and injured from the Bruxelles’ attack are also our dead and injured” and stressed that “there are no motives in the world that can allow all of this”.
Netherlands – Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, conveyed his condolences to the prime ministers of Belgium and Israel. The Dutch minister of Foreign affairs, Frans Timmermans, expressed his solidarity to his Belgian colleague. He said that he was shocked by the cowardly attack.
Sweden – Carl Bildt, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, wrote on Twitter: “Despicable attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels. An affront against the values our modern Europe represents.” Birgitta Ohlsson, Minister for EU Affairs, also wrote on Twitter: “I’m shocked about the anti-Semitic attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels just one Day before the elections to the European Parliament.”
Turkey – Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, offering condolences to the victims’ families. In written statement, “Turkey hopes the attack was not related to “racist or anti-Semitic” motives. Or else we will be very concerned over the result of the latest EU Parliament elections, which was very disappointing.”
– – Organizations
Roger Cukierman, head of French Jewish association CRIF, called for more resources to be given to the French foreign intelligence service, the DGSE, to track militants returning to France from Syria.
The European Jewish Association’s General Director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, thanked the European leaders who had condemned the attack for their remarks, but stressed that, “condemnation after a predictable attack is nothing but a way to cleanse one’s conscience…There is a need to establish a pan-European taskforce in order to annihilate anti-Semitism.” He later added that, “Such an attack was to be expected in light of rising anti-Semitism in Europe. The governments of Europe have to take steps, words aren’t enough.”
Ban Ki Moon’s spokesman said in a statement that the Secretary General “reiterates his strong condemnation of all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and trusts that Belgian authorities will do everything possible to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime to justice swiftly.”
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder reacted with shock, saying “Two years after Toulouse, and on the eve of the European elections, this despicable attack is yet another terrible reminder of the kind of threats Europe’s Jews are currently facing.”