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Liège gunman allegedly killed a man the night before shooting three others
The man who shot dead two women police officers and a 22 year-old student in Liège on Tuesday morning also killed another person on Monday night, said Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon.
Speaking on RTL TV station on Wednesday morning, Jambon said that the shooter, identified as Benjamin Herman, “had committed a murder the night before”. Herman is alleged to have killed 30 year-old Michael Wilmet by hitting him over the head with a blunt object. Jambon confirmed that the man had previously been in prison with 31-year-old Herman.
Herman was on day release from prison when he killed three people in Liège on Tuesday. He stabbed the two police officers with a knife as they were checking parking meters and then shot them with their service weapons. Afterwards he killed a 22-year-old man who was a passenger in a car before entering a school and taking a cleaning woman hostage. Herman was later shot dead by a Liège police special unit as he fled from the building. Several officers were injured.
The federal prosecutor has opened a terrorism investigation. He told a press conference on Wednesday that the initial findings of theh investigation suggested that it could have been a terrorist attack.
TV footage by broadcaster RTBF showed Herman – dressed in black – shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest, in Arabic). The investigation is examining whether Herman could have been radicalised in prison.
Herman was on temporary release from Marche-en-Famenne prison in Luxembourg province, where he was serving a 17-year sentence for drug and theft offences. He had been given 36 hours’ leave on Monday to stay with his grandmother in the nearby town of On.
He had already completed 11 one-day and 13 two-day periods of leave as part of his rehabilitation since being imprisoned in 2003. Herman had previously absconded on some periods of leave.
Justice Minister Koen Geens told local media that he was examining his conscience about Herman's release . "For normal prison leave like this one, I would not want to reopen the debate because it's going to make people in prison desperate," he said.
Prime minister Charles Michel said in a statement shortly after the incident: "I want to give my condolences and support in the name of the government to the families of the victims."
The two police officers killed have been named as Soraya Belkacemi, 45, and Lucile Garcia, 33. The other victim was Cyril Vangriecken, a Liège University student.
Liège police published a photo of the two officers above (Belkacemie left, Garcia right) on its Facebook page, "in homage to the women, mothers and wonderful police officers that they were".
A minute's silence was held in the centre of Liège and attended by more than a 1,000 people, including politicians on Wednesday afternoon. Federal and local police simultaneously observed a minute's silence at Brussels' Palais de Justice .