(JTA) – Jewish schools and other institutions in Antwerp and Brussels went into lockdown following terrorist attacks that killed 34 people at Brussels’ airport and metro network.
At least 14 people were killed in the attacks Tuesday morning at Zaventem Airport and dozens wounded, according to the online edition of the Le Soir daily. Officials said a suicide bomber detonated the deadly charge. Shortly thereafter, another 20 people died in an explosion inside a metro train in central Brussels, according to the daily. Dozens were injured in both attacks.
Police advised civilians to remain indoors. Public transportation and flights to and from Zaventem were suspended.
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 and 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. Among the hundreds of passengers who were evacuated to a safe area near the airport are several dozen Jews, he added in an interview with Joods Actueel.
Shortly after the attacks, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre cancelled a Purim party it planned for tomorrow “out of respect for the victims and their families,” the centre’s CEO, Ari Epstein, told Joods Actueel. Another Purim party by the European Jewish Association was cancelled in Brussels, the group’s director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, said.
The airport attack occurred at 8 am near the American Airlines desk, according to the online edition of the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly. Kornfeld said the time and place of the attack could have resulted in many Jewish victims from passengers travelling between Antwerp, which has a large haredi 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 cancelled at dozens of Jewish schools in Antwerp and children were instructed stay inside the buildings, Kornfeld said. Community leaders are discussing the possibility of cancelling 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 airport’s ceiling and produced a thick cloud of white smoke and dust as hundreds of people hurriedly fled from the airport’s buildings.
About an hour after the airport attack, several explosions were heard at a metro station near the Brussels district of Maelbeek, not far from the headquarters of the European Union. In addition to the 15 fatalities, 55 people were wounded there including 10 in serious condition, the STIB transportation firm said.