The two Israelis killed in the deadly Saturday attack at a Jewish museum in Brussels were identified late Sunday morning as Tel Aviv residents Mira and Emanuel Riva, who were on an organized, private walking tour of Brussels when the shooting took place.
Authorities have notified their family, and the Foreign Ministry said it was in contact with local police and that their bodies would be flown to Israel for burial as soon as they were no longer required by the investigation. Emmanuel was 54 and Mira was 53. They have two teenage daughters.
It took authorities many hours to identify the couple because they were not carrying identification on them during the attack.
“They were an amazing couple, good people, truly salt of the earth,” a family friend of the couple said. “I don’t know people like that…. They were also patriots – worked at the Finance Ministry and other government agencies for years. It was just two years ago that they returned from Germany after an assignment in Berlin, where they worked as accountants at a government corporation,” the friend explained, according to the Ynet news site.
Speaking to Belgian Jewish community leader Maurice Sosnowski by telephone, President Shimon Peres said Sunday morning that Israel was “with you in this difficult time. We share your sense of shock and profound sadness… Our heart is with you, the families and the community. Please convey my condolences to the entire community.”
Peres called on European leaders Sunday to take the lead in fighting against a tide of anti-Semitism spreading across Europe.
“We must act without hesitation against any form of anti-Semitism,” Peres said. “The leaders of Europe should lead the struggle against anti-Semitism, which is rearing its head across the continent,” he added.
The Saturday afternoon shooting attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium left three dead, including the Israeli couple and a volunteer at the museum. The shooter, whom Belgian police believe was operating in tandem with a driver, remains at large.
A fourth victim, a 23-year old museum employee, was reported to have died early Sunday morning, but was later understood to be alive but in very critical condition, AP reported.
Sosnowski said Sunday that the museum was not protected like other Jewish centers in Brussels because it is not exclusively a Jewish community structure, and therefore it was “an easy target.”
“This was a pre-planned attack, it wasn’t something that could be improvised. The victims were shot at the entrance to the museum. It seems that there were one or two shooters; the modus operandi reminds us of the shooting in Toulouse,” he added, referring to the March 2012 attack in which four people were killed by a motorcycle-riding gunman outside a Jewish school in the French city.
The Saturday terror shooting has caused a great deal of worry in the Belgium Jewish community and other communities in Europe, Sosnowski said, and noted that “security has been increased to the highest level at all Jewish centers. The local authorities are putting all efforts into solving this case.”
On Sunday morning, before the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who had condemned the attack immediately after it occurred on Saturday, noted “the hatred the Jewish people are witnessing in these days.” He praised Pope Francis, who is currently on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, for his “firm stand against anti-Semitism.”
EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, joining a chorus of European and world leaders, condemned the terror attack. “I condemn unreservedly the dreadful attack… I send my condolences to the families of the victims and express my solidarity with the Belgian authorities and the Jewish community,” she said, and added that “everything possible must be done” to find the perpetrators.
There must be “no impunity” for terror, she said.
Also on Sunday, the British Jewish community issued a press release in which they condemned the “shocking act of terror” which was “a stark reminder that violent hatred and anti-Semitism is still very present in Europe. We call on the Belgium authorities to act swiftly in bringing the culprits to justice and for governments across Europe to ensure minority communities are protected against such despicable acts.”
The Belgian Ministry of Justice was due to hold a mid-day press conference to announce the initial findings of the investigation.
Authorities launched a manhunt for the shooter, who was driven to the museum by a suspected accomplice in an Audi car, and are analyzing security camera footage.
Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said that the attack was caused by anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes in Europe.
“This act of murder is the result of constant incitement against Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said in a statement hours after the shooting.
Earlier Saturday, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo told a hastily called news conference that Belgians stood “united … faced with this hateful attack,” while Belgium’s King Philip expressed his “indignation over this act of violence closely affecting the Jewish community.”
The head of the EU executive Jose Manuel Barroso condemned “this terrible act” in the heart of the European capital, saying: “This was an attack at European values which we cannot tolerate.”
It was the first fatal attack on a Jewish center since the early 1980s in Belgium, home to some 40,000 Jews, roughly half of them in Brussels, the remainder in the port city of Antwerp.
A deputy public prosecutor, Ine Van Wymersch, said police had detained and were interrogating a person who admitted to having been on the scene at the time of the attack but who denied all involvement.
The person was initially interrogated as a suspect but later questioned as a witness, the public prosecutor’s office said.
An inquiry was opened for “murder with premeditation.”
Van Wymersch said police believed two men were involved, one who left the scene at the wheel of a car and was in police custody and one who escaped on foot and who had not yet been identified.
Detectives were examining video camera footage in and outside the museum for further leads.
“This is an odious attack,” said premier Di Rupo. “Everything is being done … to identify and arrest its author or authors.”
A Jewish community figure, Joel Rubinfeld, told AFP it clearly “is a terrorist act” after the two men were seen driving up and double-parking outside the museum.
One opened fire, allegedly shooting indiscriminately first in the entrance hall and then further inside before getting away.
The area around the museum was closed off and security beefed up to maximum level across the country in places associated with the Jewish community in Belgium, Milquet said.
The shooting took place at around 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), with the victims apparently shot to kill in the face and throat.
A bystander, Alain Sobotik, told AFP he saw the corpses of a young woman and a man just inside the doors of the museum.
A picture shows them lying in pools of blood.
“The young woman had blood on her head. She was still holding a leaflet in her hand, she looked like a tourist,” he said.
Also witness to the two corpses lying at the entrance shortly after the shooting was Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders who told reporters that the two other victims had been shot further inside the museum.
“I hope we will identify those responsible very quickly,” he said.
Reynders said he had been strolling nearby when he saw people fleeing and heard shots and rushed to help.
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.
While stopping short of calling it an anti-Semitic act, Reynders said “evidently one thinks of that.”
The Jewish Museum of Belgium is located in the heart of the Sablon district which is home to the city’s top antique dealers.The area is a popular weekend haunt for shoppers and tourists, hosting the city’s best chocolate shops and many cafes.
“A deeply symbolic place was struck,” said Di Rupo. “The government expresses all its support to our country’s Jewish community.”
The attack came on the eve of elections in Belgium for a new federal government as well as for its regional parliaments and the European Parliament.
In 1982, a gunman opened fire at the entrance of the synagogue in Brussels, wounding four people, two seriously.
JTA contributed to this report.