Synagogue Sexton Shot Dead in Antwerp

Moshe Yitzchak Naeh, 24, was killed Wednesday night in the Jewish neighborhood of Antwerp.

Moshe Yitzchak Naeh, 24, was killed Wednesday night in the Jewish neighborhood of Antwerp.

The British citizen was returning home from his work as sexton at a local synagogue in the early morning hours when he was shot in the head. He was taken to a local hospital but died yesterday afternoon of his wounds.

Belgian police told Jewish community leaders that they are investigating every possible angle and do not yet know if the murder was anti-Semitic or stemmed from other motives. Naeh had 1,400 euros in his pocket, which the killer did not take.

Police rearranged their patrols in the port city to center more on the neighborhood close to Antwerp Central Station.

Naeh's funeral will be held today at the Jewish cemetery on the Belgium-Netherlands border.

Antwerp's ultra-Orthodox community spokesman, Pinchas Kornfeld, urged the community not to jump to conclusions, saying the police must be allowed to investigate and do their job. "If it does turn out to be an anti-Semitic event, it is particularly serious," Kornfeld said.

Belgian Jewish community leader Philip Markievicz said the atmosphere was somber following the murder, but the motives were still unclear.

The 17,000-strong Antwerp Jewish community sees few anti-Semitic events, but Jews are occasionally targeted. Four yeshiva students were attacked in July by several youths of Arab descent. One of the four needed medical care for stab wounds.

The community was greatly worried by the murder, which took place in their neighborhood, close to areas inhabited by Antwerp's large Muslim population, comprised mostly of North African immigrants.

Kornfeld told Haaretz yesterday that recently a report by Belgium's official anti-racism center revealed 49 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported so far this year in Belgium. In 1999, there were only nine. "There is clearly a rise in anti-Semitism, but I am not sure it is really five-fold. There may be more awareness now than in 1999, so the public reports more, as it has been asked to do."

There are now 30,000 Jews in Belgium of a total population of 10 million. Amid concern that racial tension in the Netherlands was spilling over into Belgium, the federal prosecutor's office disclosed that Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx had received a letter threatening her and two other politicians.

Authorities said on Wednesday that a senator of Moroccan origin, noted for criticizing radical Islamists, had been given police protection after receiving death threats.