Gunman kills policewomen, bystander in Belgium

Police investigators in Liege after the shooting yesterday.
Police investigators in Liege after the shooting yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LIEGE (Belgium) • A man killed two policewomen and a bystander in the Belgian city of Liege before being shot dead in a gunfight at a school, in what prosecutors are treating as a terrorist attack.

The man was named by public broadcaster RTBF as a 36-year-old petty criminal who had been let out on day release from a local prison on Monday.

It said investigators were looking into whether he had converted to Islam and had been radicalised in jail.

A public prosecutor told a news conference that the man attacked the policewomen from behind with a knife, described as a box-cutter by RTBF, around 10.30am (4.30pm Singapore time) yesterday on a boulevard in the centre of Belgium's third city, near the German border.

After stabbing the officers, prosecutor Philippe Dulieu said, the man seized one of their handguns and shot both women dead before walking down the street and shooting dead a 22-year-old man who was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car.

The attacker then made his way into a high school where he took a woman employee hostage, triggering a major intervention by armed police.

Students were moved to safety as a gun battle broke out that sent people in the streets racing for cover.

Several police officers were wounded before the attacker was finally killed.

"The event is classed as a terrorist incident," Mr Dulieu said.

The national crisis centre, on high alert since past attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Paris and Brussels in the past three years, said it was monitoring events.

However, it had not raised its alert level, an indication it does not expect related follow-up attacks.

La Libre Belgique newspaper quoted a police source as saying the gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest in Arabic).

Prime Minister Charles Michel, expressing his condolences to the families of the victims, said it was too early to say what had caused the incident.

King Philippe visited Liege, the biggest city in Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region.

A Brussels-based ISIS cell was involved in attacks in Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people and Brussels in 2016, in which 32 died.

The cell had links to militants in Verviers, another industrial town close to Liege, where in early 2015 police raided a safe house and killed two men who had returned from fighting with radical Islamists in Syria.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'Gunman kills policewomen, bystander in Belgium'. Print Edition | Subscribe