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Belgium in shock after three shot dead at Jewish Museum

Three people were shot dead and one badly injured when a gunman attacked the Jewish Museum in the centre of Brussels in an apparently anti-Semitic act that shocked the country.

BRUSSELS: Three people were shot dead and one badly injured when a gunman attacked the Jewish Museum in the centre of Brussels on Saturday in an apparently anti-Semitic act that shocked the country.

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."

It is the first fatal attack on a Jewish centre 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.

"Two women and one man are dead, a third person is in hospital," Interior Minister Joelle Milquet said at the scene. "We don't yet know if they were tourists or staff, they haven't been identified."

Asked whether she believed it was an anti-Semitic attack, she said it was too early to say with a police and judicial inquiry just underway, but that given the target "there are strong grounds for presuming so".

A deputy public prosecutor, Ine Van Wymersch, said police had detained and were interrogating a "suspect" who admitted to having been on the scene at the time of the attack but denied all responsibility.

An inquiry had been opened for "murder with premeditation," she said.

Van Wymersch said that after talking to eye-witnesses, 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 working on 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 two men were seen driving up and double-parking outside the museum.

One opened fire, allegedly shooting indiscriminately in the entrance hall and 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 pm (1400 GMT), with the victims shot in the face and throat.

A fourth person was critically hurt and fighting to survive.

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 at the scene shortly after the shooting was Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders who told reporters that the two other victims had been shot inside the museum.

I hope we will identify those responsible very quickly," he said.

Reynders said he had been 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.

"I am shocked by the murders committed at the Jewish museum, I am thinking of the victims I saw there and their families," Reynders said on Twitter.

While stopping short of calling it an anti-Semitic act, Reynders said "evidently one thinks of that."

The Jewish Museum of Belgium, which was not answering calls, is located in the heart of the Sablon district which is home to the city's top antique dealers.

It is a popular weekend haunt for shoppers and tourists, hosting the city's best chocolate shops and many cafes.

"Four innocent people were hurt and a deeply symbolic place was struck," said Di Rupo. "The government expresses all its support to our country's Jewish community."

The attack comes 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 with serious injuries.

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