On May 24, a single gunman opened fire at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium. In an attack that only lasted a few seconds, the shooter was able to kill three people and seriously injure another person before escaping. The following week, French police arrested Mehdi Nemmouche during a random search at a bus station in the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles. At the time of his arrest, Nemmouche was found to be in possession of an AK-47 rifle and another gun. The AK-47 was reportedly wrapped in a flag bearing the symbol of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Nemmouche was quickly identified as the prime suspect in the Brussels shooting attack.
While the attack was certainly tragic, the shooter’s tactics were relatively simple and unsophisticated.
In reviewing the video of the attack, the shooter enters the museum, wearing a hat and possibly latex gloves. Then, he pulls an AK-47 from a black bag and fires from the hip into a room that it is out of our vantage point on the film. Note that the gunman chose not to shoulder the weapon and aim, like a trained shooter would do.
After investigating countless attacks as a special agent, I think it is highly plausible that the gunman had previously walked the attack route. Most killers do. We call that pre-operational surveillance. Based on his demeanor and his purposeful entry, he seemed to know where he was going. The investigators are now likely to be reviewing past video surveillance footage looking for his previous walk-through, to see how many days before he had visited the location.
This attack was also not difficult to carry out because the target was soft, meaning it was not well defended. The museum did not appear to have armed guards on the perimeter, which is not surprising.
But the location did appear to have good interior video surveillance coverage. Unfortunately, standard video surveillance cameras only help solve crimes, not prevent them from occurring. We don't know how many other targets the killer possibly looked at, but it would not be surprising to learn that the gunman surveilled other Jewish targets and locations. It is very feasible the gunman chose the target with the least amount of security.
Even though this attacker lacked sophisticated tradecraft, he demonstrates that this sort of assailant can still pose a limited, deadly and persistent threat.