Morocco Tries Man for 1989 Murder of Belgian Jewish Leader

Professor Joseph Wybran was shot at short range in Brussels just before Rosh Hashanah 19 years ago.

Professor Joseph Wybran was murdered at about 6 P.M. one October evening in 1989, just before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), in the parking lot of the Erasmus University Hospital in Brussels where he worked. Wybran, the chairman of B'nai B'rith and a pillar of the Jewish community in Belgium, was shot at short range.

Half an hour later he was found sprawled next to his car. "The doctors allowed me to enter the operating room, and for hours I sat next to him and read Psalms," reconstructs Jacques Heller, a friend of his since childhood. "At 1:00 in the morning the doctor, who was a mutual friend of both of us, told me that there was nothing more to do and detached Joe from the resuscitation apparatus."

Almost 20 years after the murder, Heller feels that perhaps at long last the moment of revenge has come and the planner of the murder, Abdelkader Belliraj, will be punished.

Jacques was born in 1939 and Joe in 1940. Both survived the Holocaust with the help of Belgian families who hid them in their homes. They were together in the Bnei Akiva religious youth movement, "and since then we were always together," relates Heller.

He studied business management and diplomacy, while Wybran studied medicine, specializing in immunology, and earned a reputation as one of the world's leading experts. Both of them served as officers in the Belgian army and were active in the umbrella organization of the Jewish communities in Belgium (the CCOJB - Comite de Coordination des Organisations Juives de Belgique). Heller was responsible for security in the community and had been the chairman of B'nai B'rith. Wybran was his deputy, and later they switched positions.

At the time of the murder, Wybran was the chairman of B'nai B'rith and was waging a determined fight against the Carmelite Order's intention to build a convent in Auschwitz.

Amateurish investigation

As in other countries of Western Europe, Palestinian terror came to Belgium in the 1980s: In 1982 a Palestinian terrorist attacked and injured two security guards at a Brussels synagogue. In 1989 terrorists from Abu Nidal's organization captured the yacht of a Belgian family cruising in the Mediterranean. The hostages were set free after the Belgian government paid a ransom for their release and also arrived at a secret agreement with Abu Nidal, whereby in return he would refrain from terrorist activity on Belgian soil.

"After Joe was murdered," continues Heller, who immigrated to Israel about a decade ago, "the Belgian police and security services investigated several directions concerning the murder: the Carmelites, students who wanted to take revenge on their professor and terrorists from the Middle East."

The investigation, Heller emphasizes, was rather amateurish. They did not find anything. Not even the bullet casing. "I always had a feeling that this was probably an action of Abu Nidal."

In February 2008, the Moroccan security services arrested Abdelkader Belliraj together with several dozen other activists in Islamic organizations, on suspicion of belonging to an Al-Qaida network that was plotting to topple the regime of King Muhammad VI. He is now on trial at a special state security court. Belliraj has denied the charges against him and claims that his confessions were extracted by force and under harsh torture.

The heavy-set 51-year-old Belliraj is a professional terrorist in the service of masters whose worldviews are quite different from one another. He was born in the city of Nadour in northern Morocco, emigrated to Belgium and circulated in Arab circles on the margins of the left and in radical Islamic circles. According to his testimony in the investigation, he became radicalized after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. In 1981 he was sent by the Iranian ambassador in Belgium to Tehran, where he met the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Two years later he was sent to Lebanon and underwent training in the use of weapons and explosives at a camp operated by the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. He subsequently traveled to Algiers where he met a Palestinian called Abu Ali, who recruited him to the ranks of Abu Nidal's organization.

On a mission for Abu Nidal, who in the 1980s operated against Jewish institutions, individuals and synagogues in Europe, Belliraj allegedly initiated the operation to assassinate Joe Wybran. During his interrogation he related that he gathered information about Wybran, and together with an activist he had recruited to this organization, drove to the hospital. The other activist, whom the Belgian media have identified by the initials "A.M.," waited for Wybran and shot him. Belliraj and the murderer fled the scene.

In total Belliraj has confessed to involvement in six murder cases in the years 1988-1989, among them the murder of an aging homosexual who had made a proposal that Belliraj believed dishonored his manhood, and a Belgian grocer who was mistakenly identified as a Jew, on a mission for Abu Nidal. On missions for the Iranians he allegedly committed three more murders: of a Saudi imam and a librarian at the Great Mosque in Brussels, and a driver at the Saudi Arabian Embassy.

According to what Belliraj has said, he was an informer for the Belgian security services for years. This detail might explain Jacques Heller's sinking feeling that the Belgian law enforcement authorities are not making exceptional efforts to arrive at the truth, and have not arrested the murderer A.M. However, Heller is not only disappointed with the country where he was born and lived. He also feels that the state of Israel, all its secret organizations and the media have not really evinced interest in the issue. His consolation is that perhaps at least Moroccan justice will compensate him.