Police forces secure the area while fans are evacuated from the stadium after the UEFA the UEFA EURO 2024 group F qualification round match between Belgium and Sweden was stopped in Brussels, Belgium, 16 October 2023. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER MATTHYS

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Two Swedes murdered in Brussels terror attack

A man identifying as a supporter of the Islamic State murdered two men and wounded another on October 16. The police shot the man dead on the morning of October 17.

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A man identifying as a supporter of the Islamic State murdered two men and wounded another on October 16. The police shot the man dead on the morning of October 17.

The terror level remains high at time of writing as it is unclear if there were accomplices.

At around 7:15 pm on October 16, a man, later identified as Abdesalem Lassoued, pulled over with his moped at Sainctelette square, in north Brussels.

He took up an automatic weapon and started shooting in the street, hitting a black taxi. One passenger died on the spot, and the taxi driver was badly wounded.

Bystanders fled from the scene, and Lassoued followed two people who ran into a building. In the building, he opened fire again. One person seeking to escape tripped and fell, and was then shot again by Lassoued, according to images that circulated online.

The same images suggested Lassoued yelled “Allahu akbar” and drove off on his moped, wearing a white hat and a fluorescent vest.

Scenes of the killing hit social media and the police rushed to the scene, but Lassoued was nowhere to be found. The Belgian authorities raised the terror alert to its maximum level in Brussels.

 

A manhunt ensued. Both murder victims are reported to be Swedes; they wore jerseys in their country’s national colours.

They were planning to attend a football game between the Belgian and Swedish national teams. Once the news of the attack broke, the Swedes did not want to continue playing, to which the Belgians agreed. The 35,000 spectators had to stay in the stadium for hours as the drama unfolded.

Sweden was already on high terror alert following controversial Quran burnings. Drug-related crime, mostly by gangs, is rampant in some cities.

According to two posts attributed to Abdeslam Lassoued on social media, he declared himself to be a warrior of the Islamic State.  One video was taken in advance, in what appears to be his living room. The other one was taken after the killings. The Facebook account used had more than 3,000 contacts.

Lassoued’s reported posts suggest he was angered by a recent murder of a Palestinian child in the US.

Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reported Lassoued as married with a daughter. Pictures seem to confirm this.

In a press conference early on October 17, the state secretary of migration, Nicol de Moor, said the suspect was a 45-year-old Tunisian man, who sought asylum in November 2019. Eleven months later, his request was rejected. He then “disappeared from the radar”.

It is unclear on which date he initially reached Belgium.

In February 2021, the man was officially removed from the national register of residents and, a month later, was ordered to leave the country. He ignored the order.

The state secretary’s statement was followed by one by the minister of justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, who said Lassoued was known to the authorities.

According to the minister, in 2016, “unconfirmed information from a foreign police agency” was sent to Belgium suggesting Lassoued had a “radicalised profile” and wanted to depart for a conflict zone. “That information was then investigated, but nothing further could be done with it,” the Justice minister said.

Lassoued was not considered a terror suspect, Van Qucikenborne said, though he reportedly did threaten an asylum-seeker in Belgium. The victim accused Lassoued of having been convicted of terrorism in Tunisia. That turned out to be untrue; he was reportedly convicted of other, currently unspecified, offences in his home country.

A security consultation on Lassoued had been scheduled for October 17. “A precautionary measure,” Van Quickenborne said. “Because there was no concrete or acute threat.”

The Belgian government had in recent days claimed there was no increased terror risk, despite the attacks in Israel, the terrorist attack in France, and the hateful demonstrations in Brussels.

This has raised questions as to the government’s preparedness.

Questions have been raised over Belgium’s ability to control those entering its territory, as well as the spread of hateful content online. Lassoued, despite his bright clothing, gave security forces the slip for several hours before he was shot dead by police.