Jewish schools and other institutions in Antwerp and Brussels went into lockdown following attacks in Belgium that killed at least 34 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 20 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.
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 charedi 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 blasts 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. On Tuesday, community leaders were discussing the possibility of canceling school on Wednesday 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.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu linked the Brussels attacks to terror attacks in his country.
“The chain of attacks from Paris to San Bernardino, from Istanbul to the Ivory Coast and now to Brussels, and the daily attacks on Israel, this is one continuous assault on all of us,” Netanyahu said Tuesday morning in an address via satellite to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. “In all these cases, the terrorists have no resolvable grievances.
“What they seek is our utter destruction,” he said. “We won’t let that happen.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas strongly condemned the bombing attacks, and offered his sympathy to the families of those killed and injured, the Wafa Palestinian news agency reported. Abbas also “affirmed that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people abhor terrorism and reject attacking civilians.”
The attack comes two days after a suicide bomber detonated himself near a group of Israeli tourists at a restaurant in Istanbul. Turkish reports said the bomber targeted the Israelis. Three of the four fatalities were Israelis.
Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, sent a condolence letter on Tuesday to King Philippe of Belgium.
“Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, whether it takes place in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul or Jerusalem,” Rivlin wrote. “These horrific events once again prove that we must all stand united in the fight against those who seek to use violence to stifle individual liberty and freedom of thought and belief, and continue to destroy the lives of so many. I want to emphasize that this struggle that we all share is against this violent terrorism that continues to kill and maim so many, it is not a fight against Islam.”
Rivlin expressed his condolences to the people of Belgium.
“Sadly, we, in Israel, are no strangers to the horror and grief that follows such murderous attacks and can understand the pain you all feel now,” he said.
Israel’s minister of science, technology and space, Ofir Akunis, said in a Facebook post that European officials have been wasting their time worrying about labeling products produced in Israeli settlements instead of worrying about the growth of Islamic extremism in Europe.
“Many in Europe have preferred to occupy themselves with the folly of condemning Israel, labeling products, and boycotts,” he wrote. “In this time, underneath the nose of the Continent’s citizens, thousands of extremist Islamic terror cells have grown. To our sorrow, the reality has struck the lives of dozens of innocent people, powerfully and fatally.”