Menu JTA Search

Police Consider Terrorism As Motive in Murder of Belgian Jewish Leader

Police investigators have not ruled out terrorism as a possible motive in the fatal shooting of Dr. Joseph Wybran, secular leader of Belgium’s 30,000-member Jewish community.

Wybran, 49, died Wednesday morning of a head wound inflicted by an unknown assailant Tuesday night in the parking lot of Erasmus Hospital. Wybran was head of its department of immunology, hematology and blood transfusions.

As chairman of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium, Wybran was active in campaigning for the removal of a Carmelite convent from the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

According to police, Wybran was shot in the head Tuesday night by a 22-caliber revolver at close range as he was about to enter his car in the hospital’s vast parking lot between 6 and 7 p.m. local time.

Police, who believe the killer was hiding behind the car when the attack took place, said the nature of the weapon and the choice of time and place indicate a political assassination.

Wybran, found lying in a pool of blood, was rushed to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

It was under the Belgian doctor’s leadership that the Jewish community here took the lead in protesting the Catholic Church’s failure to honor its 1987 pledge to relocate the Auschwitz convent.

The issue was especially sensitive here because it was from Belgium that the Carmelite order was dispatched. Belgium also was the center of fund-raising efforts for the convent.

Wybran organized demonstrations last month outside the residence of the papal nuncio, the Vatican envoy in Belgium, to protest anti-Semitic statements by the Polish primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, arising from the convent dispute.

But he was also active in trying to defuse the controversy that has embittered Catholic-Jewish relations. He visited Poland only a week ago for talks with government officials and church leaders.

Wybran, a former chairman of the Brussels section of B’nai B’rith, was widely respected within and outside the Jewish community. His last communal function was the European Jewish Congress plenum last month in London.

Wybran assumed leadership of the Coordinating Committee in December 1988, succeeding lawyer Markus Pardes after a long period of tension between the various streams of Judaism in Belgium.

He was considered the ideal compromise candidate.

According to David Susskind, vice president of the committee and head of the secular Jewish community center in Brussels, Wybran was a pacifist and a moderate without enemies.

Avi Primor, Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, described him as “our link with Belgian Jewry, our doctor, our friend.”

Wybran was the first Jewish public figure in Belgium to fall victim of a possible assassination. Until now, terrorists had attacked synagogues or other Jewish institutions, but never a person in particular.

The Jewish community here is reeling not only from shock over the murder, but also from concern that, if terrorism was indeed involved, security may be threatened at Belgian synagogues, which will be packed for Yom Kippur services this Sunday night and Monday.

Special protective measures have been taken at houses of worship and all other Jewish institutions, community sources said.

Belgian Radio, which announced Wybran’s death Wednesday, said the murder was considered an anti-Jewish act, although no person or group has claimed responsibility.

Speculation in the Jewish community is that it could have been the work of a neo-Nazi, a Palestinian or a Catholic inflamed against Jews by the convent controversy.

Wybran was born in May 1940. He was married and had no children.

NEXT STORY