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Brussels Shooting Labelled 'Terrorist Assassination'

Belgian prosecutor's office finally confirms that attack was terrorism, after debate over how to categorize the crime.
By AFP and Arutz Sheva Staff
First Publish: 5/26/2014, 7:09 PM / Last Update: 5/26/2014, 7:51 PM

Gunman firing at victims.
Gunman firing at victims.
Screenshot

The Belgian federal prosecutor's office Monday said a probe had been opened into "terrorist assassination" in the weekend shootings by a lone gunman at the Jewish Museum in Brussels that left four dead, according to AFP.

Spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, Wenke Roggen, told a news conference that the investigation now underway was for "terrorist assassination" and "attempted terrorist assassination" on top of an inquiry already opened over the shooting attack. 

Police analysis of images from the surveillance cameras at the museum show "a man killing in cold blood ... with great determination," Roggen said.

"These facts combined with the fact that the shooting lasted less than a minute and a half leads us to think there may be a terrorist motive," she told a news conference.

Earlier Monday, the inquiry into the weekend attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels which claimed four lives was transferred to Belgium's federal prosecutor's office which is authorized to handle terrorist crimes.

Deputy public prosecutor Ine Van Wymersch told a news conference that "the file is transferred to the federal" level, but she refused to say whether or not it was being categorized as a terrorist act.

The decision to transfer the case was based on "the identity and nationality of the victims" - Tel Aviv natives Miriam and Emmanuel Riva, a French woman who did volunteer work at the museum and a 24-year-old Belgian museum employee.

The victims included an Israeli couple in their 50s said to be working for the government, Miriam and Emmanuel Riva.

He was said by Belgian and Israeli news reports to have once worked for Nativ, a government agency that played a covert role in fostering Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union.

Along with Israel's foreign intelligence agency, Mossad, and its domestic security equivalent, Shin Bet, the Nativ agency was under the authority of the prime minister's office.

All four victims of the shooting, which included a French woman who did volunteer work at the museum and the 24-year-old Belgian museum employee said to be brain dead, were hit by bullets to the face and neck.

The young Belgian was said by Jewish leaders to have died Sunday of injuries in the Saturday afternoon shooting but Van Wymersch said he was still alive but "clinically dead."

Three chilling security camera videos show the gunman, wearing a cap and sunglasses, but with his features hard to make out, walk into the museum entrance, remove a Kalashnikov-style automatic rifle from a bag and then shoot through a door before making an exit.

Van Wymersch refused to confirm or deny reports that a camera was strapped to one of the two bags he was carrying, enabling him to film the attack in the same way as did Mohammed Merah, the Frenchman who shot dead several Jews in Toulouse two years ago.

The Derniere Heure tabloid on Monday quoted a source close to the inquiry as saying: "We fear a new Merah."

"The priority of priorities is to find this man. He must be arrested and stopped," said Belgian 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 centers.

The announcement comes amid claims authorities have made "significant" headway in their investigation into the massacre.

Yet despite the various announcements of progress the killer remains at large, and police have ramped up already-tight security at Jewish institutions around the country. However, authorities have hesitated to instantly label the attack as a specific act of anti-Semitism.

Interior Minister Joelle Milquet stated late Saturday that while "there are strong grounds for presuming so," there is not enough information about the shooter or the motive to make a full confirmation of the shooting as a hate crime. However, officials have stated that an investigation has indicated that the attack was "murder with premeditation." 

The Belgium public prosecutor's office said Sunday that it had no grounds at this stage to state whether an attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels was a terrorist or anti-Semitic act.

Van Wymersch said Saturday, "I cannot confirm that it is a terrorist or anti-Semitic act" and added that "all leads remain open."

But the anti-Semitic nature of the attack is obvious to Jewish leaders, who instantly slammed what many perceive to be growing tolerance for anti-Semitic hate crimes in Europe. 

European Jewish leaders responded with harsh criticism over what they said was a lack of seriousness by European governments in dealing with anti-Jewish incitement. 

Israeli leaders issued sharp condemnations as well, and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky vowing to help European Jews "defend themselves"against hate crimes.