BRUSSELS — Brussels police on Tuesday morning shot dead a man suspected of killing two Swedish football fans in an Islamist terror attack on Monday night.
“The perpetrator of the Brussels terrorist attack was identified and has died,” said Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden. “Our thanks to the intelligence and security services and the public prosecutor’s office for their quick and decisive action last night and this morning.”
“We can confirm that he is deceased,” a spokesperson for the Belgian federal prosecutor told POLITICO.
After an overnight manhunt, cops carried out a raid in the city’s northern Schaerbeek region Tuesday morning. “I can confirm that he was found in a café and shot there,” Verlinden said.
A little after 8 a.m., a witness informed the Brussels police that he had spotted the suspect in a café in Schaerbeek, prosecutors added later Tuesday morning. The police arrived at the scene and during the intervention shot the suspect. The emergency services arrived at the scene and tried to resuscitate the man.
The man was transferred to the hospital where his death was confirmed at 9:38 a.m. A military weapon and a bag of clothes were found in the bar.
Killed ‘because they were Swedish’
Monday night’s attack took place around 1.5 kilometers north of the city center’s Grand Place, and not far from the Sainte Catherine area — a popular spot filled with restaurants and bars. It happened shortly before Belgium played Sweden in an international football match, which was abandoned after the slayings.
In a press conference at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the suspect was “a man of Tunisian origin” who “was staying illegally in our country.”
De Croo said the shooter “targeted specifically Swedish football supporters,” and that a full investigation into the “brutal terrorist attack” is underway.
Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesperson of the federal prosecutor office told public broadcaster VRT, on Tuesday: “We’ve said initially that there would not be a link with the events in Gaza, but we have determined in the meantime that he shared a couple of support messages for the Palestinian people on his social media,” in reference to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
Sweden has been on the front line of blowback from hard-line Islamists, due to repeated Quran burnings — including a spate this summer which led Stockholm to increase the country’s security threat level.
Belgian’s three relevant ministers — justice, interior and migration — are attending the federal parliament on Wednesday to address the terrorist attack, Theo Francken, a lawmaker of the nationalist opposition party N-VA told POLITICO.
“We live in a dark time,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Tuesday morning during a press conference. “Never before in modern times have Sweden and Swedish interests been more threatened than now,” Kristersson said. The victims were killed “simply because they were Swedish,” he added.
The suspected terrorist temporarily stayed in Sweden at one point, however he was not known to Swedish police, Kristersson said. Swedish and Belgian authorities will work closely together on the case, the PM added.
De Croo said he had invited Kristersson to Brussels on Wednesday “to commemorate the victims and pay tribute to the police services.”
Brussels security measures
Heightened security measures will be implemented in sensitive locations in Belgium, particularly those associated with the Swedish community, De Croo said. Brussels has raised its terror threat level to 4, the maximum on the scale, according to the Belgian National Crisis Center.
In the European Quarter of Brussels, the European Commission has urged staff to work from home. Visitors are barred from accessing EU buildings and car parks are closed, according to internal staff alerts seen by Brussels Playbook.
Speaking on Belgian radio, Brussels Mayor Philippe Close said: “All security services are now working hard to ensure that normal life can continue as best as possible. For the city of Brussels, the services, sports centers and cultural centers are open as usual today as much as possible.”
Belgium’s crisis center urged continued vigilance on Tuesday morning and said there would be “increased and visible police presence.”
The security measures will be evaluated throughout the day on Tuesday.
This story has been updated.
Zoya Sheftalovich and Jakob Hanke Vela contributed reporting.