At least 31 dead in Brussels attacks, Belgium’s Jewish schools locked down


(JTA) — Jewish schools and other institutions in Antwerp and Brussels went into lockdown following attacks in Belgium that killed at least 31 people at the main airport and in the metro in Brussels.

At least 14 people were killed in the attack Tuesday morning at Zaventem Airport, according to the online edition of the Le Soir daily. Officials said a suicide bomber detonated the deadly charge.

About an hour later, another 17 people died in an explosion at a metro station in central Brussels, according to the daily. Several explosions were heard near the Maelbeek district, not far from the headquarters of the European Union.

Dozens were injured in both attacks.

Police advised civilians to remain indoors. Public transportation and flights to and from Zaventem were suspended.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it was in response to Belgium’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the group.

Among the wounded was an Israeli citizen who resides in Antwerp and was in Brussels for a wedding, according to Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld, a community leader from Antwerp. He sustained injuries to his legs but is not in life-threatening condition, Kornfeld said.

Another Jewish person was moderately wounded, according to Samuel Markowitz, a paramedic for Hatzoloh, a local Jewish emergency services organization. Several dozen Jews were among the hundreds of passengers who were evacuated to a safe area near the airport, he added in an interview with the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly.

Shortly after the attacks, the Antwerp World Diamond Center canceled a Purim party it planned for tomorrow “out of respect for the victims and their families,” the center’s CEO, Ari Epstein, told Joods Actueel. Another Purim party by the European Jewish Association was canceled in Brussels, the group’s director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, said. Purim events were also cancelled in Brussels.

The airport attack occurred at 8 a.m. near the American Airlines desk, according to the online edition of Joods Actueel. Kornfeld said many Jewish passengers were traveling between Antwerp, which has a large haredi Orthodox community, and New York.

“It was the right time and place to produce many Jewish casualties,” he said.

Le Soir reported that two explosions ripped through the airport. A federal prosecutor said at least one of the explosions came from a suicide bomber’s explosive vest.

Recess was canceled at dozens of Jewish schools in Antwerp and children were instructed to stay inside the buildings, Kornfeld said. Community leaders are discussing the possibility of canceling school tomorrow and Purim street festivities planned for Thursday. Shortly thereafter, similar instructions went out from the Belgian government’s crisis center to all of the country’s schools. University students were instructed to refrain from coming to campus.

Witnesses told Joods Actueel that at the airport, they heard shouts in Arabic, gunshots and a massive explosion that tore through the ceiling and produced a thick cloud of white smoke and dust as hundreds of people fled from buildings there.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said 34 people were killed in the Brussels attacks. 

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