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Police investigating the shooting
Manhunt over

Belgian police shoot dead suspected gunman following last night's Brussels attack

Last night’s shooting left two Swedish nationals dead.

LAST UPDATE | 17 Oct 2023

POLICE IN BELGIUM have shot dead a man suspected of gunning down two Swedish football fans in an attack in Brussels last night.

Hours after a manhunt began in the Belgian capital, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told broadcaster VRT: “We have the good news that we found the individual.”

She said that the weapon believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered.

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

Spokesman Eric Van Duyse told AFP that officers “opened fire” as they apprehended the man in the Schaerbeek area of the city.

Prime Minister Alexander de Croo earlier said the suspect was a man of Tunisian origin who had been living in the country illegally.

Belgium had raised its terror alert to the highest level in Brussels following the attack while the hunt for the suspected shooter carried on throughout the night. 

A football match had been taking place between Belgium and Sweden but it was abandoned at half time. The 35,000 fans in attendance were held inside as a precaution while the attacker was at large.

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.”

The stands emptied onto streets filled with police as the search for the attacker continued.

“Frustrated, confused, scared. I think everyone was quite scared,” said Caroline Lochs, a fan from Antwerp.

“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,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a news conference just before dawn.

“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,” Mr De Croo said.

The OCAD anti-terror centre also said the terror alert for the rest of the country had been raised to its second-highest level.

Laura Demullier of the OCAD said the highest priority for authorities had been to get thousands of football fans attending a Belgium-Sweden football match safely out of the the King Baudouin Stadium.

Eric Van Duyse, spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office, told reporters the investigation was centring on “a possible terrorist motivation for the shooting”.

“During the evening, a claim of responsibility was posted on social media, having been recorded by a person claiming to be the assailant. This person claims to be inspired by Islamic State,” he said.

“The Swedish nationality of the victims was put forward as the probable motive for the act. At this time, no element indicates a possible link with the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said:

“Devastated by the news of two Swedish football supporters murdered in Brussels tonight and a third person being seriously wounded. All my thoughts are with their families and loved ones.” 

Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw described how the suspect 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 Koran 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 Koran-burnings by an Iraqi refugee living in Sweden resulted in threats from Islamic militant groups.

The incidents of Koran burning have been met with heavy criticism from the governments of some Muslim majority countries as well.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held up Sweden’s bid to join NATO during the summer citing the desecration of Islam’s holy book, while the Swedish ambassador to Iraq was expelled after the embassy was stormed. 

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

Police overnight raided a building in the Brussels neighbourhood of Schaerbeek where the man was thought be staying but did not find him.

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”.

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

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. 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 centre and a hearing on that incident had been due to take place on Tuesday, Mr Van Quickenborne said.

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.

With reporting from Press Association and AFP

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