Jews in west European countries prayed this year behind police cordons with army snipers ready to protect them after two terrorist attacks, one in Paris and the other in Brussels, marred Rosh Hashanah observances.
In Paris, close to 50 people, including 45 non-Jewish school students, were wounded by an explosion which blew up the car of an Israeli diplomat on New Year’s eve.
In Brussels, a man fired a submachinegun at worshippers leaving the city’s main synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Saturday morning, seriously wounding four. In both cities severe of the injured are still in critical condition.
In most West European capitals, police took stringent security precautions. Police barriers were set up near places of worship and people entering the areas were searched by police officers and local community volunteers for possible hidden weapons and explosives. In spite of the Paris and Brussels attacks, synagogues were crowded in most large European cities.
At Paris’ liberal synagogue on the Rue Copernic, where four people were killed by a bomb blast on Simhat Torah in 1980, hundreds of families filled the hall and hundreds more stood outside for lack of space. The same happened in most synagogues in Paris, Brussels, Zurich, Rome and Amsterdam.
In several West European synagogues special services will be held for the wounded today. In France, Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat said Jews will fast in solidarity with the wounded and to protest the Pope’s meeting with PLO chief Yasir Arafat at the Vatican last Wednesday.
THE EXPLOSION IN PARIS
The Paris explosion occurred Friday afternoon, at 3:30, as an official of the purchasing mission of the Israeli Defense Ministry, Amos Man-El, 61, turned the ignition key in his car. A powerful blast shook the entire street in a central residential area, shattering windows for several hundred yards and wounding people a block away. The two other passengers in the Israeli diplomat’s car, his Venezuelan cousin, Zoltan Mandel, and his wife, Veronica, were seriously injured.
Flying glass wounded 45 children in a nearby school and several passers-by. The purchasing mission had closed earlier than usual to allow 100 staff members to return home to prepare for the Rosh Hashanah celebration. An Israeli Embassy spokesman said that had the staff left on time, as usual, dozens would have been wounded.
Angry crowds rapidly gathered on the site and people started demonstrating, calling for stricter police protection and for the closure of the PLO bureau in Paris.
Israel’s Ambassador Meir Rosenne blamed the attack on the Palestine Liberation Organization, quoting one of its leaders, Farouk Kaddumi, as having said that the Palestinians “will make life unlivable for any Israeli wherever he is.” Rosenne later met with Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy to protest against the attack.
Israeli sources said Rosenne hinted that France’s Mideast policy has been conducive to anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish murderous attacks.
President Francois Mitterrand chaired a special anti-terror crisis group at the Elysee Palace and later government spokesmen said that security precautions will be further tightened up.
Hours after the attack, all Jewish community centers, synagogues and schools as well as many office buildings were cordoned off by police forces, with sharpshooters at the ready.
In phone calls to news agencies in Paris, a group calling itself “The Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction” claimed responsibility for the attack. Police said, however, that the calls were not being taken seriously since the calls occurred long after the news was broadcast. The underground group had claimed in the past that it was responsible for the assassination attempt against U.S. Embassy economic counselor Roderick Grant.
Police also detained 14 people suspected of links with the extreme leftwing “Action Directe” organization but later said that none of those arrested seemed to have been involved in the blast.
THE ATTACK IN BRUSSELS
The following day, Saturday morning, a man, described by eyewitnesses as a pedestrian, opened fire with a submachinegun on a group of worshippers entering Brussels Regency synagogue in the center of the city, wounding four. A plain clothes detective on guard outside the synagogue returned fire and uniformed officers took up a chase but the man fled down the winding alleys and got lost in the Saturday morning crowd of shoppers and tourists.
The Israeli Embassy in Brussels issued a statement blaming, in part, the attack on what it said were biased anti-Israeli press reports on the Beirut fighting which created an atmosphere propitious for PLO attacks.
Several Belgian ministers came to the site and Foreign Minister Leo Tindenmans told the angry crowds that the government will do everything it can to ensure the Jewish community’s protection. The Jewish demonstrators were not appeased. Many called for the government’s resignation or at least a change in its Mideast policy. Others assaulted Belgian and foreign television crews and reporters on the spot.
Several terrorist attacks have taken place in recent years in Belgium. In July 1980 a 15-year-old boy was killed and 14 people injured in Antwerp when terrorists attacked a small group of children waiting for a bus to take them to summer camp.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.