Jewish group on Brussels attacks: ‘Shots at the heart of Europe’
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Jewish group on Brussels attacks: ‘Shots at the heart of Europe’

The aftermath of an explosion in a metro train in Brussels on March 22, 2016. Courtesy of Alexandre De Meeter/

The aftermath of an explosion in a metro train in Brussels, March 22, 2016. (Courtesy of Alexandre De Meeter/

(JTA) — Jewish groups expressed shock and anger following a series of attacks that left at least 31 dead in the Belgian capital.

Kenneth Bandler, director of media relations for the American Jewish Committee, linked the attacks to the slaying of four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May 2014.

“What began with the jihadist fatal attack on the Jewish Museum nearly two years ago has now reached the airport and metro,” he wrote in an email about the Tuesday morning attacks in Brussels.

Two explosions at Zaventem Airport, including one by a suicide bomber, killed at least 14 people, and was followed by an explosion at the Maelbeek metro station, where another at least 20 died, the Het Laatste Nieuws daily reported on its online edition.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a French national in his 30s who is said to have fought with jihadists in Syria, is currently on trial in Brussels for the May 2014 museum shooting.

“This is yet another shocking, appalling and deadly attack on innocent Europeans by radical terrorists,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement. Kantor called the attacks “shots at the heart of Europe” that he said should galvanize counterterrorist actions.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, in response to Belgium’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said his organization is “united in prayers at this hour with the families of the victims and the injured.”

Goldschmidt called the attacks, whose perpetrators have not yet been publicly identified, the “latest act of war of Islamic fascism against the capital of Europe,” adding: “As in the biblical story of Esther, which will be read in all the synagogues later this week, evil can and will be destroyed only by recognizing it and fighting it.”

Sources from a Belgian intelligence agency said the attacks may have been carried out as revenge for the arrest Friday in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French Islamist whom authorities suspect had a key role in a series of deadly attacks that killed 130 people in Paris in November. An unnamed intelligence source told the Het Laatste Nieuws daily that the attacks must have been planned a long time ago but may have been carried out earlier than planned to retaliate for the arrest.