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Brussels police kill suspect in shooting deaths of Sweden football fans

Police cordon off an area where a shooting took place in the center of Brussels, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.
Police cordon off an area where a shooting took place in the center of Brussels, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By David Mac DougallEuronews with AP, AFP
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The suspect was shot at a cafe in the Brussels neighbourhood of Schaerbeek, where a residential property had been searched overnight.

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Police in Brussels have shot and killed the only suspect in the deaths of two Swedish football fans in Brussels on Monday night. 

The Federal Prosecutor's Office said the man, believed to be a radicalised Tunisian national living illegally in Belgium, had been shot dead in the city's Schaerbeek neighbourhood early Tuesday morning, where a building had been searched during the night.

Belgium's Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said "the perpetrator of the terrorist attack in Brussels has been identified and has died", and praised the work of the intelligence and security services.

What happened on Monday night?

A huge manhunt was launched in the Belgian capital on Monday evening after a gunman killed two Swedish nationals.  

Amateur videos posted on social media of the attack showed a man wearing an orange fluorescent vest pull up on a scooter, take out a large weapon and open fire on passersby before chasing them into a building to gun them down.

Not far from the scene of the shooting, a football match between Belgium and Sweden at the national stadium was suspended at halftime and the 35,000 fans held inside as a precaution while the attacker was at large.

Prosecutor Eric Van Duyse said “security measures were urgently taken to protect the Swedish supporters” in the stadium. 

More than two hours after the game was suspended, a message flashed on the big stadium screen saying, “Fans, you can leave the stadium calmly.” Stand after stand emptied onto streets filled with police as the search for the attacker continued.

Sweden supporters wait on the stands after suspension of the Euro 2024 group F qualifying soccer match between Belgium and Sweden at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, Mon
Sweden supporters wait on the stands after suspension of the Euro 2024 group F qualifying soccer match between Belgium and Sweden at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels, MonAP Photo

Belgian PM gives pre-dawn press conference

Speaking to journalists at a press conference before dawn on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo described the shooting as a "brutal terrorist attack." 

“Last night, three people left for what was supposed to be a wonderful soccer party. Two of them lost their lives in a brutal terrorist attack."

"Their lives were cut short in full flight, cut down by extreme brutality.”

De Croo said his thoughts were with the victims’ families and that he had sent his condolences to the Swedish prime minister. Security has been beefed up in the capital, particularly around places linked to the Swedish community in the city.

“The attack that was launched yesterday was committed with total cowardice,” De Croo said, and added that the assailant was a Tunisian man living illegally in Belgium who used a military weapon to kill the two Swedes and shoot a third who is recovering from ”severe injuries."

A video message claiming responsibility for the attack was posted on social networks by a man "presenting himself as the assailant and claiming to be inspired by the Islamic State", stressed the federal public prosecutor's office, which is responsible for terrorism cases and which has been tasked with the investigation.

The national crisis centre was activated and Belgium's terrorist threat was raised to level 4, considered to be "very serious" - the highest level - in the Brussels region, and to level 3 ("serious") in the rest of the country.

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Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw described how the suspect, a 45-year-old man, had posted a video online claiming to have killed three Swedish people.

The suspect is alleged to have said in the video that, for him, the Quran is “a red line for which he is ready to sacrifice himself.”

Sweden raised its terror alert to the second-highest level in August after a series of public Quran-burnings by an Iraqi refugee living in Sweden resulted in threats from Islamic militant groups.

Sweden’s foreign ministry sent out a text message to subscribers in Belgium asking them “to be vigilant and to carefully listen to instructions from the Belgian authorities.”

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Belgian prosecutors said overnight that nothing suggested the attack was linked to the latest war between Israel and Hamas.

European schools and some Flemish establishments will remain closed on Tuesday in the Belgian capital, according to the authorities.

Police cordon off an area where a shooting took place in the center of Brussels, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. Belgian police say that two people are dead in central Brussels after s
Police cordon off an area where a shooting took place in the center of Brussels, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. Belgian police say that two people are dead in central Brussels after sNicolas Landemard/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

What do we know about the suspect?

According to Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, the suspect was known to police, had been suspected of involvement in human trafficking, living illegally in Belgium and of being a risk to state security. He was denied asylum in 2019. 

Information provided to the Belgian authorities by an unidentified foreign government suggested that the man had been radicalised and intended to travel abroad to fight in a holy war. 

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But the Belgian authorities were not able to establish this, so he was never listed as dangerous.

The man was also suspected of threatening a person in an asylum center and a hearing on that incident had been due to take place on Tuesday, Van Quickenborne said.

Belgian Asylum State Secretary Nicole de Moor said the man disappeared after his asylum application was refused so the authorities were unable to locate him to organise his deportation.

Prime Minister De Croo said that Belgium would never submit to such attacks. “Moments like this are a heavy ordeal," he told reporters, "but we are never going to let ourselves be intimidated by them.”

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