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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Orthodox Jew shot in head and killed in Belgium, probably by Muslims

Moshe Yitzhak Na'eh, who was shot in the head overnight Wednesday in Antwerp in what seems to be an anti-Semitic attack, died of his wounds late Thursday afternoon, Belgium's Prosecutors office announced.

Prosecutor's spokeswoman Dominique Reniers said, "We do not exclude any motive, but so far there are no indications that the motive was racist or extremist," she said.

Reniers called the victim a "devout young man" who was shot from close range. He slumped on to the road, where he was discovered by passers-by who initially thought he was a road accident victim.

There were no witnesses to the shooting.

Na'eh, 24, an ultra-Orthodox Jew and a father of five – the oldest five years old, the youngest an 18-months-old baby - was shot at about 2:20 a.m. on Lange Kievitstraat, near a Muslim neighborhood in Antwerp, Belgium, home to large Jewish and Muslim communities.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Na'eh's bedside in an Antwerp hospital before he passed away, Na'eh's sister, who asked that her name not be published, said the family was praying her brother will survive the attack. "As long as there is life there is hope," she said, adding that all the Jewish schools in Antwerp are saying Tehillim (Psalms) for her brother's recovery.

Belgian federal police are investigating the incident, which seems to be a hate crime, as Na'eh's money was not stolen and he was not involved in any criminal deeds.

Louis Davids, Editor-in-Chief of the Belgian Jewish Weekly, told The Jerusalem Post that the shooting in Antwerp made headline news on all TV and radio stations Thursday. "Belgian Jews are worried about the escalating violence in their neighborhood. The young man was an integral part of the close knit Jewish community, for that reason many are distraught and shocked," Davids said. Davids added that police have increased their patrols of the Jewish areas to reassure citizens. The local police have also assigned a large team on this case in order to uncover the facts as soon as possible.

Both Na'eh and his father serve as gabays (custodians) of the Pshevorski Rebbe in Antwerp, where Na'eh grew up. He finished work at the house of the rebbe, located in the same building of the community's synagogue, at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, according to Yehuda Ceitlin, a correspondent of the European Jewish Press.

The rebbe's house is located near a bridge separating the Muslim and Jewish neighborhoods of Antwerp. Na'eh was walking along the bridge on his way home when he was shot in the head from close range.

He was quickly rushed to hospital, where doctors struggled to keep him alive.

"If this is indeed an anti-Semitic act," Ceitlin said, "this is a big change in Belgium. There have been anti-Semitic stabbings here, punches – but never shooting."

"The Jewish community here is very worried," Ceitlin told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

He added that he was informed that at the time of the shooting Na'eh was carrying in his pockets 1,300 Euro, which the attackers did not attempt to steal.

"This is further evidence that the attack might have been an anti-Semitic incident," Ceitlin said.

Representatives of Antwerp Police and the Belgium Justice Ministry held a press conference on Thursday to officially address the incident. "They didn't give away any new information," Ceitlin said. "They did, however, call Belgium Jewish leaders prior to the meeting and asked them not to participate in it, so as not to turn the press conference into a 'Jewish happening'," he said.