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Political Motivation Likely for Murder of Belgian Leader

Justice Minister Melchior Wathelet affirmed Thursday that all indications point to terrorist motivations for the murder of Dr. Joseph Wybran, the leader of the Belgian Jewish community who was fatally shot Tuesday evening.

It appears that Wathelet, who was killed by an unknown assailant in a hospital parking lot, was targeted simply because he was a Jewish leader, the minister said in a television interview.

A Palestinian terrorist group has somewhat belatedly claimed responsibility.

The Israeli news agency ITIM reported Thursday night that an anonymous phone caller, speaking Hebrew with an Arabic accent, said the murder was the work of a group called “Direct Revenge.”

The same group said it was responsible for setting the forest fire that devastated the Mount Carmel National Park near Haifa last month.

Palestinian activists are believed to frequently claim credit for anti-Israel acts they had nothing to do with, in order to gain prestige and credibility in Arab circles.

In Paris, a Beirut group calling itself “The Soldiers of Righteousness,” released a statement on Thursday through Agence France-Presse claiming it had “executed the death sentence against Professor Wybran, known for his activities as a leader of Mossad,” the Israeli intelligence agency.

Wybran, 49, was chairman of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium, the umbrella organization of Belgium’s 30,000 Jews.

Justice Minister Wathelet told the Belgian RTL television network that “according to the evidence we have so far, we can say that this is a terrorist act.”

He said that “the assassination is not linked to any private motives but rather to the role of Joseph Wybran as head of the CCOJB.”

‘AGAINST MEN OF DIALOGUE’

The minister extended condolences to Wybran’s family and to the Jewish community, and expressed concern over what he called “the spread to Belgium of terrorist acts against men of dialogue and peace.”

Wybran was shot in the head with a .22-calibre revolver Tuesday evening in the parking lot of Erasmus Hospital, where he headed the department of immunology, hematology and blood transfusion. He died Wednesday morning while undergoing surgery.

Prime Minister Wilfried Martens of Belgium called Wybran’s murder an “ignoble and revolting act.”

The primate of Belgium, Cardinal Godfried Daneels, sent condolences to the CCOJB.

As leader of the Jewish community, Wybran was active in the campaign to remove a Carmelite convent from the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp.

Wybran had returned only a week before his murder from a trip to Poland, where he had conferred with government and church officials.

Jewish leaders have called for a demonstration before Wybran’s funeral Friday near the main synagogue in the center of the city.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

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