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Belgian Synagogue Set on Fire in 'Criminal' Attack

Amid a wave of anti-Semitism in Europe, and just four months since deadly Brussels shooting, attackers set fire to a synagogue.

Ari Soffer,

Brussels Jewish Museum (file)
Brussels Jewish Museum (file)
Reuters

A fire broke out in a synagogue in the Belgian capitals of Brussels Tuesday, in what appears to be a "criminal" act, according to reports.

Belgian daily La Dernière Heure said that several people broke into synagogue, which is located in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Anderlecht, and ignited several fires on the fourth floor of the building.

The wife and two children of the synagogue's caretaker suffered slight smoke inhalation in the fire on the top floor of the building, where they lived, said Laurens Dumont, a spokesman for the city prosecutor. The caretaker was absent at the time.

Dumont said "it would seem that the fire was set deliberately" at the synagogue in the Brussels neighborhood near the main train station, but the investigation was in its early stages.

"All leads are open," Dumont said.

The synagogue reportedly serves roughly 240 people in the area, whose once-large Jewish community has dwindled in size.

Although Belgium suffers from high levels of anti-Semitism, the leader of Anderlecht's Jewish community, Yehuda Guttman, said that he was still unsure as to the attackers' motivations.

"I do not know ... If the act was anti-Semitic, the authors would have burned a Torah, the sacred books. And that's not the case. Here we live at peace with everyone," he said.

The same synagogue was also attacked in 2010, when unknown assailants hurled firebombs in a previous attempt to set it alight.

Belgian Jewry has been shaken in recent months by a surge in anti-Semitism that has engulfed most of Europe. Just four months ago, the community was rocked by an anti-Semitic terrorist attack in which an Islamist gunman opened fire with an assault rifle in the Brussels Jewish Museum, killing four people.

And just last Sunday, visitors to a Holocaust memorial close to the synagogue were attacked by thugs who threw stones and bottles at them, according to media reports.

AFP contributed to this report.