‘Islamic extremist’ used Belgian policewomen’s own guns to shoot them and a bystander before being killed in a school

Local media named the assailant, who was shot dead by police, as a 36-year-old who had been released from prison near Liege on Monday

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 6:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 4:09am

A gunman on a police watch list for contacts with Islamist extremists launched a brazen suspected terrorist attack in Liege, Belgium on Tuesday, shooting dead two female police officers with their own weapons before killing a bystander.

The bloodshed in the gritty eastern industrial city began when the attacker repeatedly stabbed the two officers before using their own firearms to kill them, said prosecutors, who added that they had begun a terror investigation into the killings.

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Belgium remains on high alert after a string of attacks, including twin suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 claimed by the Islamic State.

“Armed with a knife, the suspect followed and attacked two police officers, and used their own firearms to kill them,” prosecutor Philippe Dulieu told a news conference on Tuesday.

“He continued on foot, attacking a parked vehicle, where he opened fire on a 22-year-old man in the passenger seat. The young man died.”

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Dulieu said the attacker then entered a school, where he took a woman hostage. “Police intervened, he came out firing on the police officers, wounding several before he was killed,” Dulieu said.

A source close to the investigation said the gunman was on a special police watch list because of his contacts with radical Islamists. The source named the attacker as Benjamin Herman, born in 1982, saying he had past convictions for robbery, violence and drug dealing.

Herman was “already on the run” after committing another murder on Monday night in the town of On, in southern Belgium, the source said, though local prosecutors said they have not yet established a link with the Liege incident.

Public broadcaster RTBF identified the alleged assailant as a 36-year-old Belgian who had been released on parole from a prison near Liege, close to the German and Dutch borders, on Monday.

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He was serving time for drug offences and classified as “unstable”, according to RTBF.

“He is suspected of having been radicalised [in prison] ... He has been reported or presumed to be belonging to the entourage of an Islamist recruiter,” the source said, on condition of anonymity.

La Libre Belgique newspaper quoted a police source as saying the gunman shouted “Allahu Akbar” – “God is greatest” in Arabic. But Belgium’s crisis centre said it saw no reason to raise the country’s terror threat alert for now.

Yves Stevens of Belgium’s federal crisis centre said security in Liege is now under control and that there was no reason yet to raise the national terror threat level.

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“There is absolutely no confirmation yet that the incident is terror-related,” Stevens said.

Liege, the biggest city in Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region, was the scene of a mass shooting in 2011, when a gunman killed four people and wounded more than 100 others before turning the gun on himself.

Belgium has been on high alert since a Brussels-based Islamic State cell was involved in attacks on Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people and Brussels in 2016 in which 32 died.

The Brussels IS cell had links to militants in Verviers, another industrial town close to Liege, where in early 2015 police raided a safe house and killed two men who had returned from fighting with radical Islamists in Syria.

Additional reporting by Reuters