Belgium Suspects Terrorism as Assailant Kills Police in Liege

(Bloomberg) -- Belgian authorities suspect terrorism was the motive for the killing of two police officers and a passing driver in the city center of Liege even as local media reported the assailant, who had obtained authorization to leave prison, was only known for petty crime.

The attacker stabbed two police officers in the back, grabbed their firearms and shot them dead, Liege prosecutor Philippe Dulieu said at a press briefing in the eastern Belgian city on Tuesday. He went on to shoot a passenger in a passing car and briefly took a woman hostage in a nearby high school before being killed in a shootout with the police, which wounded several officers.

Flanked by Belgium’s federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw, Dulieu said authorities are investigating the triple murder as an act of terrorism as Belgium’s King Philippe and Prime Minister Charles Michel rushed to Liege to offer their mourning. While prosecutors didn’t give any details about the attacker, public broadcasters VRT and RTBF identified him as a Belgian national in his thirties from the town of Rochefort or neighboring Marche-en-Famenne who was serving a prison sentence for numerous accounts of theft and drug-related offenses. He had obtained authorization to leave the prison shortly on Monday, a privilege he had enjoyed about a dozen times before without issues, according to VRT.

Prime Minister Michel condemned the act as “cowardly and blind violence” in a Twitter post, offering the nation’s support for the victims and their loved ones. Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the attack took a “heavy toll” on the Liege police force.

Belgian police has been the target of terrorist attacks before, prompting higher security measures in precincts after an Algerian national residing illegally in the country had injured two police officers with a machete outside a police station in Charleroi in August 2016.

Prime Minister Michel adjourned a scheduled government meetup with Dutch colleagues in Brussels and will instead convene a meeting of the country’s highest-ranking security officials later on Tuesday. Earlier, the Interior Ministry’s crisis center reported that the terror threat level will be maintained at two, where it has been since January after being lowered from a level of three.

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