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Brussels shooting: Suspect shot by police after two Swedish football fans killed in terror attack

Brussels shooting - suspect shot in Schaerbeek
09:22 17/10/2023

The terror alert level in Brussels has been raised to the maximum, level 4, after two Swedish nationals were shot dead and a third seriously injured in the city centre on Monday evening, in an incident that prosecutors describe as an act of terrorism.

The suspect was named as Abdesalem L, a 45-year-old man of Tunisian origin, resident in Schaerbeek. He was captured in a police raid at Schaerbeek on Tuesday morning, according to interior minister Annelies Verlinden.

He was reportedly shot in the chest in the Cage aux Ours area and taken by ambulance to hospital, where he died.

The Brussels region is on a terror threat level of 4, the country’s highest. The threat level in the rest of the country was raised to level 3. Prime minister Alexander de Croo called on the public to be “extra-vigilant”. Security has been increased in sensitive areas, including around the Swedish community.

Francophone schools remained open on Tuesday but were asked to be vigilant. Some Flemish community schools, belonging to the GO! education network, and the European schools are closed for the day.

Public transport in the capital is running as normal. Staff at the European Commission have been advised to work from home and in-person meetings and visits have been shifted online.

Shooting in Place Sainctelette

The attack occurred around 19.15 on Monday near Place Sainctelette, Boulevard d’Ypres and Boulevard du Neuvième de Ligne. Shots were fired, killing two Swedes on their way to the football match in Heysel.

A third man was injured and taken to hospital. His life is not in danger. Originally identified as a taxi driver, he was later confirmed to also be a Swedish football fan.

A video claiming responsibility for the shooting circulated shortly after on social media. A man speaking Arabic, wearing a fluorescent orange jacket and armed with a large weapon, said he had targeted three Swedes in revenge for Islam.

Following the attack, De Croo said: “My deepest condolences to the relatives of this cowardly attack in Brussels.” He added that he had passed on his condolences to Sweden’s prime minister “following tonight’s harrowing attack on Swedish citizens”.

Brussels was placed on high alert by the country’s crisis centre as residents were called on to limit their movements in the city and remain vigilant.

Brussels mayor Philippe Close wrote on X: “Following the shooting in Brussels, the police services are mobilising to ensure security in and around our capital in collaboration with the interior minister. I am present at the crisis centre to ensure coordination.”

King Baudouin stadium shut down

The Euro 2024 qualifying match between Belgium and Sweden was abandoned at half-time following the shooting. The stadium, filled with 35,000 people, was shut down for the safety of supporters. Fans were eventually escorted out of the stadium around midnight.

Belgium’s national team wrote on X: “Due to the incidents in Brussels earlier tonight, play is suspended. Our thoughts are with all those affected.”

The Swedish football team were escorted by police to Brussels national airport. Flights at the airport in Zaventem were running as usual on Tuesday.

Suspect was an illegal resident in Belgium

Secretary of state for asylum and migration Nicole De Moor said in a statement that the suspect had applied for asylum in November 2019.

“He received a negative decision in October 2020, he then disappeared from view. He was officially removed from the national register on February 12, 2021. He never stayed in a Fedasil reception centre. As he had been removed from the national register, he could not be located to organise his return.”

Swedish community asked to be vigilant

The Swedish prime minister urged his compatriots in Belgium to be vigilant. Ulf Kristersson called on them to exercise caution and vigilance, according to the Swedish news agency TT.

“The Swedes on site are asked to be vigilant and to carefully follow the instructions of the Belgian authorities,” he says. “My thoughts are this evening [Monday] with the deceased, the injured and their loved ones.”

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström earlier wrote on X that the Swedish authorities were working with their Belgian counterparts to find the suspect.

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

Photo: Place Eugene Verboekhoven in Schaerbeek where suspect shot by police on Tuesday morning ©Belga/James Arthur Gekiere

Written by The Bulletin