Two Brussels police stabbed in suspected terror attack

Police and army personnel standing guard during a bomb alert outside the Brussels-North (Gare du Nord - Noordstation) train station in Brussels, on Oct 5, 2016.
Police and army personnel standing guard during a bomb alert outside the Brussels-North (Gare du Nord - Noordstation) train station in Brussels, on Oct 5, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) – An attacker stabbed two police officers in the Belgian capital Brussels on Wednesday (Oct 5) in a possible terror incident, the latest attack in a city still reeling from deadly Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) bombings in March.

Police shot the man in the leg after he attacked the two officers, one female and one male, in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels, with a knife and then broke the nose of a third officer.

Prosecutors identified the man, who was later shot in the leg, as 43-year-old Hicham D, a Belgian national, while reports said he was a former soldier with ties to Islamic militants who had gone to fight in Syria.

The incident came shortly after one of the main train stations in Brussels and the city’s prosecutor’s office were shut by a bomb scare which later turned out to be a false alarm.

“We have elements to believe that the (stabbing) incident was a terrorist attack,” Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, told AFP.

“At noon two police officers were attacked by a man with a knife on the Boulevard Lambermont in Schaerbeek. Their life is not in danger,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“Another police patrol was able to overpower the offender who was shot in the leg. His life is also not in danger.”

An unnamed eyewitness told RTBF television: “I saw the attacker striking the policeman on the ground. He got on top of him and was punching and kicking him. The policeman rolled into the bushes but he followed him and kept hitting him.

“After that he hit the woman, she was crying and bleeding. Then the police arrived, they got out of their car and shot him.”

Officials said one police officer was stabbed in the neck and the other in the stomach.

Police later searched the suspect’s house in Schaerbeek but found no weapons or explosives, Van Der Sypt said. The suspect remains in police custody and a terrorism judge will decide whether to keep him in detention.

Hicham D is a former soldier who served in the Belgian army until 2009, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.

Belgian media said he was already known to the authorities for being in contact with militants who had gone to fight in Syria, but the source was unable to confirm that.

The attack comes two months after two policewomen were wounded in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi by a machete-wielding man who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).

That attack was claimed by the ISIS group.

Meanwhile, Belgium remains on its second highest terror alert level following the March 22 ISIS suicide bombings on the Brussels metro and airport in which 32 people were killed.

The incident also took place on the same day that security was tight as Brussels hosted a major conference of international donors to raise billions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan.

Security was tight for the conference in the EU’s headquarters, about 4km from the scene of the knife attack.

Schaerbeek, much like the nearby district of Molenbeek, was deeply connected to the Brussels attacks.

A bomb-making factory for the Brussels bombings and the November 2015 attacks in Paris was located in Schaerbeek.

The neighbourhood was also the home of Najim Laachraoui, one of the three suicide bombers at Brussels airport and the bombmaker for Paris.

The three suicide bombers also left for the airport from a hideout apartment located in Schaerbeek.