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One dead following series of shootings near Porte de Hal

22:12 15/02/2024

One person has died after a series of shootings near Porte de Hal in Brussels in recent days.

Mayor Jean Spinette (PS) of Saint-Gilles, where the shootings took place, said the gun violence was related to the drug trade.

Shots fired on Tuesday afternoon near Square Jacques Franck were done as “a warning” in a territory war between gangs, according to Spinette.

“I asked police to chase away the dealers,” Spinette told RTBF, who met residents on Tuesday evening to answer their questions.

"As soon as I left there, I saw the dealers already sitting in their usual place. All of Saint-Gilles wants a solution to this situation.

"Our municipality is held hostage by a drug trade taking place in public spaces and by terrorist techniques, such as the brandishing of weapons of war."

Sébastien Joris of the federal police said: “A lot of money is involved in drug trafficking, so weapons are easy to obtain and young vulnerable people end up in a spiral of violence.”

Officers in the Midi police zone regularly arrest dealers who, according to the mayor, are often undocumented people and sometimes minors.

“They’re often released immediately by the justice department,” said Spinette. “These are not soft drugs or pleasant dealers. We’re talking about mafia networks.

"We’re not just dealing with small dealers making some extra money, we’re facing a phenomenon that has reached unprecedented, almost industrial proportions."

In the Midi police zone alone, 78 hotspots for drug trafficking have been identified. Besides the Square Jacques Franck in Saint-Gilles, these include Place Saint-Antoine, Place Alphonse Lemmens and Peterbos further away in Anderlecht.

There have been four shootings since Sunday evening in this relatively small area – one on Sunday evening, the second on Tuesday afternoon and the last two on Tuesday night, one of which resulted in a death.

Police said no serious injuries resulted from the others. A woman was injured when she was hit by the vehicle in which the perpetrators fled, but the victim was not seriously injured and has been treated and discharged from the hospital.

Spinette said more financial support was needed for the police zone in order to tackle the issue of drug-related violence, calling for an integrated approach with ministers of justice, home affairs and the national drugs commissioner.

The chief of police for the Midi police zone, Jurgen De Landsheer, also called for a new approach and said he lacked 200 officers in his force to deal with drug-related problems.

Anderlecht mayor Fabrice Cumps (PS) echoed the concerns.

“This gang war over territory is a cancer for our neighbourhoods,” he told BX1. “This is a problem that goes beyond the local police zone alone, or any local police zone in the country.

"It needs to be addressed by the federal judicial police. Our police forces are tired of arresting dealers who are interchangeable… We need to attack the leaders, the networks.”

The cabinet of interior minister Annelies Verlinden (CD&V) has not yet responded to the requests from Anderlecht and Saint-Gilles.

Surveillance cameras at the scene showed three people fleeing the scene of the fatal shooting, according to a source in Le Soir. Police are still investigating the incident.

“All leads are still open,” the Brussels public prosecutor's office said.

“The investigation must determine if and how these shootings are linked to each other. It is clear that these are serious matters that are being taken very seriously by the Brussels public prosecutor's office.

"There have been several consultations and exchanges of information between the various local and federal police services involved and the public prosecutor's office in order to align the approach of the various partners as closely as possible.

"Following the escalation of violence this week, a further meeting is planned in the near future to ensure a coherent approach to the issue."

In the meantime, residents of the area remain worried, saying the situation has been deteriorating since the summer.

“It's true that we're seeing more and more drug dealers,” one local resident said, with another adding: “Eight months ago, it wasn't like this.”

The recent fatal shooting has raised fears of potential reprisals, with concerns that even the uninvolved could become the victim of a stray bullet.

“There's a lot of tension here,” one resident said. “There are fights all the time. Sometimes I'm even afraid to go out with my children. And as soon as it's evening time, I don't want to leave the house because I'm scared.”

Some residents of Porte de Hal have launched a petition.

“There's been a meteoric rise in violence and crime,” one explained. “Thefts from vehicles, harassment, drugs and you see people smoking crack almost every day.

"When you get up to take your son to school and you see people taking overdoses in the morning, you wonder if you want to see your family grow up in this neighbourhood."

The online petition has already garnered almost 250 signatures.

Written by Helen Lyons