BRUSSELS — An unidentified gunman opened fire Saturday at the Jewish Museum in the center of Brussels, killing at least three people in what officials said appeared to have been an anti-Semitic attack.
Belgium’s interior minister, Joëlle Milquet, told RTL television that two women and a man died in the attack and a fourth person was seriously wounded.
The gunman, apparently alone, fled in a car that had been double-parked outside the museum, on a cobblestone street near the Place du Grand Sablon, a large square lined with luxury chocolate shops and high-end antiques dealers.
Local news media reported that one person had been arrested, but officials did not confirm an arrest.
Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders, who was in the neighborhood at the time of the attack, told Belgian television that he heard gunfire, rushed to the scene, and was “shocked to see bodies lying on the ground.”
He said investigators still had to determine the motive for the shooting, but added that the fact it took place at the Jewish Museum indicated an “anti-Semitic attack.” He said a witness saw the license plate of the gunman’s car and reported it to police.
Maurice Sosnowski, a leader of Belgium’s Jewish community, described Saturday’s shooting as the first act of anti-Semitic terrorism in the Belgian capital since World War II and compared it to a 2012 shooting that killed four people at a Jewish school in the French city of Toulouse.
Saturday’s shooting occurred on the eve of elections in Belgium for both the national legislature and the European Parliament. Far-right groups, some of which are tainted by a history of anti-Semitism, are expected to perform well in voting for the European legislature, which began Thursday in Britain and the Netherlands and comes to an end Sunday in other members of the 28-nation European Union.
In Belgium and most other European countries, however, anti-Semitism has in recent years been rooted more on the left and in Muslim immigrant communities than on the right, according to a survey last year by a European Union agency that monitors discrimination.
The survey by the Fundamental Rights Agency found that 77 percent of Belgian Jews consider anti-Semitism a very big or fairly big problem. Out of eight countries surveyed, only France and Hungary had higher levels of anti-Semitism.
Raya Kalenova, executive vice president of the European Jewish Congress, a group based in Brussels, said anti-Semitism had grown much worse in Belgium over the past decade, in part because of a rise in hostility toward Israel, and added that the authorities had often ignored the danger.
“The spirit of the Jewish people, the Jewish community, here in Belgium is really very, very low,” she said in a telephone interview. “They do not even report anti-Semitic attacks. They feel that it is useless to report, and they do not feel protected. For sure, the general atmosphere is not good here in Belgium, especially because of anti-Israeli sentiment.”
This month, authorities banned opponents of Israel from holding a conference in Brussels that Jewish groups condemned as anti-Semitic.
The conference, known as the European Congress of Rebellion, had been organized by a far-right member of the Belgian Parliament.
At the time of Saturday’s shooting at the Jewish Museum, pro-Palestinian groups were holding a concert and political rally on the other side of Brussels in Parc du Cinquantenaire.
Pierre Galand, the head of the Belgian-Palestine Association, interrupted speeches criticizing Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory to request a minute of silence for the victims of the shooting. He denounced the attack.