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Brussels shooting: Strengthening external borders “priority” for Belgium during 2024 EU presidency
In a day of reflection and homage to the victims of Monday evening’s terror attacks, Belgium and Sweden’s prime ministers Alexander De Croo and Ulf Kristersson joined European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in calling for increased border security.
Earlier, at a brief commemoration ceremony at the site of the attack in Place Sainctelette, De Croo and Kristersson laid wreaths in honour of the two men killed in the shooting.
A Swedish football scarf and jersey were placed among the bouquets of flowers as a tribute to the men who were in Brussels to attend the Belgium vs Sweden Euro 2024 qualifier. One of the dead has been named as Patrick Lundström, 60.
The gunman – who was shot dead by police on Tuesday – has been named as Abdesalem Lassoued, a Tunisian illegal resident who had previously lived in Sweden and Italy.
Despite being denied asylum in Belgium, he had not been deported. The 45-year-old was not on the country’s terrorist list, but he was on authorities’ radar for illegal residencies and other issues. After Monday’s attack, Lassoued identified himself as a member of Islamic state in a video posted on social media.
Immigration and security issues
At a press conference after the ceremony, questions around immigration and security dominated the leaders’ speeches.
De Croo said: "In the case of the terrorist attack, we will not neglect the fact that illegal immigration played an important role in these tragic events.”
He added: “This is why we must focus on two European dimensions, namely, better protection of our external borders and, more importantly, a more resolute and better coordinated return policy for illegal immigrants.”
With Belgium taking over the European Council six-month presidency in January, De Croo reiterated Belgium’s commitment to bringing the European Pact on Asylum and Migration to fruition.
He said Sweden had shown itself to be in favour of the pact, which provided for better border control and European return policy. “Sweden and Belgium are leading the same fight."
It was a similar message from Kristersson who said that the attack showed the need to bolster security at the borders of the European Union and within the region.
While acknowledging that the shooting of the Swedish football fans on 16 October was a direct attack on his country, he commented: “We are not the ones who will have to change our way of living, we are very firm on this."
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she wanted to join the two prime ministers, “because this attack took place in the capital of Europe”.
Commenting on hate speech on social networks, she said: "There is no place for hatred in Europe. We have seen that hate speech spreads online. We now have the tools to contain it. Our Digital Services Act has been strengthened. It helps us work with platforms to remove this hate speech."
On the issue of border security, von der Leyen added: "Europe is currently working on a proposed law. If a person is considered to be a dangerous person, the authorities of the country concerned should have the means to return this person to their country. We must no longer work as a “team Europe”, we will have to intensify our efforts towards the countries of origin and transit. We will have to decide who comes to us, and in what circumstances.”
Photo: Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson and Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo lay flowers at a commemoration for the victims of Monday's terrorist attack ©Belga/Benoît Doppagne