9th Dec 2023

Europe 'united against terror' after two killed in Brussels

  • Monday's killings brought back traumatic memories of Isis attack in 2016 (Photo:
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Two Swedish people were shot dead in Brussels on Monday (16 October) by an Islamist gunman, who was "neutralised" on Tuesday morning.

The killing took place on the Boulevard d'Ypres in the north of the city centre at around 7PM, not far from a Euro 2024 Sweden-Belgium football game that was called off.

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Police initially told the crowd to stay put and urged everybody to avoid trips to the city centre, prior to evacuating the stadium.

They also raised Brussels' terrorist alert to grade four (the highest) and closed several schools on Tuesday, including the European Schools, which teach EU officials' children.

"Was at Belgium-Sweden game this evening, in my Sweden jersey," Olof Gill, a European Commission spokesman, said on X on Monday.

"Read the terrible news, left stadium at halftime. Helicopters, armed police everywhere. Police advised: 'Don't show your colours'. Zipped up jacket, left Heysel area by foot, now home safe. Sad night in Brussels", he added.

"Shocked by the murderous attacks in the streets of Brussels this evening," said EU migration commissioner Margaritis Schinas.

"Horrified at the indiscriminate killing in the heart of Brussels," European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said.

The suspected killer was "apprehended" on Tuesday morning, Brussels mayor Philippe Close said at around 9AM, according to the Belga news agency.

"The perpetrator has been neutralised," Close said.

The attacker was a Tunisian man living illegally in Belgium, who had "targeted specifically Swedish football supporters", Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo had earlier told a 5AM press briefing.

Eric van Duyse, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, had also said on TV: "During the evening, a statement was posted on social networks and recorded by a person claiming to be the assailant. He claimed to be inspired by the Islamic State [Isis]".

"In the same statement, the victims' Swedish nationality was mentioned as a probable motive for the act. At this stage, there is no evidence of any connection with the Israeli-Palestinian situation," he added.

Sweden had attracted Muslim anger earlier this year after anti-Islam protesters in Stockholm burned copies of the Koran.

Tensions in Europe rose after the outbreak of a new war between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza on 7 October, which has killed thousands of civilians on both sides.

The Brussels attacker, named in Belgian media as 45-year old Abdesalem L., also gravely injured a third victim.

The news brought back traumatic memories in a city where Isis killed 32 people in bomb attacks in 2016.

It was the second Islamist killing in Europe since the Gaza war broke out, following the murder of three people in France last week, which prompted Belgium's neighbour to deploy 7,000 troops to boost security.

Antisemitic incidents have also spiked in France, Germany, and in the UK in the past 10 days.

And EU leaders were to discuss the fallout from the Gaza war in emergency video-talks later on Tuesday, including its potential "to exacerbate tensions between communities and feed extremism" in the EU.

"Our Europe is shaken," said French president Emmanuel Macron, reacting to the Brussels shooting.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen voiced "deepest condolences" to Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson "and the Swedish people" over the "cowardly attack".

"We are united against terror," she added.

Similar tributes also came in from EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell and EU Council president Charles Michel, who is a former Belgian leader.

Turning back to the Middle East war, von der Leyen, earlier on Monday, had voiced fresh concern for Palestinian civilians being killed by Israel's attack on Gaza.

She announced that EU aid-flights from Egypt to Gaza would start delivering humanitarian basics to the Strip.

"The first two flights will take place this week, carrying humanitarian cargo from Unicef including shelter items, medicines, and hygiene kits," the commission said.

But her concern came amid broad Western backing for Israel's military operation, as the EU tries to calibrate its message to prevent escalation or spillover.

"Devastated by the news of two Swedish football supporters murdered in Brussels tonight and a third person being seriously wounded. All my thoughts are with their families and loved ones," said Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström.

Speaking to EUobserver earlier this year about why Sweden allows Koran-burnings under its free-speech laws, Mårten Schultz, a law professor at Stockholm University, said: "The general idea is you cannot limit freedom of speech and freedom of assembly just because other people get angry and might start committing acts of violence against the demonstrators".

"That would mean violent mobs could take away your rights," he said.

This article was updated at 9.45AM on 17 October to say the perpetrator was no longer at large, according to Belgian authorities.


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