A man places flowers on a street memorial March 23 following bomb attacks in Brussels. Three nearly simultaneous attacks March 22 claimed the lives of dozens and injured more than 200. CNS photo/Francois Lenoir, Reuters

Belgian religious groups condemn Brussels attacks

By  JEROME SOCOLOVSKY, Religion News Service
  • March 23, 2016

Belgian Muslim and Catholic organizations are condemning the terrorist bombings in Brussels.

A statement issued by the Belgian Muslim Executive (EMB) committee, an umbrella group, said the organization “condemns with force and without reservation” what it called “acts of extreme cruelty against innocent civilians.”

“These dramatic events, in the heart of Europe, complicate the efforts of society, of the EMB and the entire Muslim community in favour of a harmonious coexistence,” read the statement signed by EMB chairman Salah Echallaoui.

The statement called for unity in the fight against terrorism, saying the Muslim group is committed to democratic values and to supporting government security forces.

The EMB was criticized previously in Belgium for not condemning the violence of the Islamic State, saying it had nothing to do with the group. Belgium is one of the top recruiting countries for ISIS in Europe.

On Tuesday after condemning the latest violence, Echallaoui told the Belgian newspaper De Standaard that he fears reprisals.

“Muslims are also affected by these terrible acts,” he was quoted as saying. “But we are hoping that the population will have enough sense not to blame all Muslims. That’s what the terrorists want, to set one part of society against the other.”

The Belgian Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a statement expressing shock over the attacks, asking for “prayers for all the victims and their families.”

In Rome, Pope Francis sent a telegram to Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Brussels condemning “the blind violence which causes so much suffering” and offering prayers for the victims and their families and the first responders.

At least 34 people were killed in the attacks on Brussels’ Zaventem international airport and shortly afterward on the Molenbeek metro train during rush hour in the Belgian capital.

The attacks occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Prime Minister Charles Michel called it a “dark moment for our country” and called on citizens to “show calmness and solidarity.”

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