BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian police searched early Tuesday for a suspected extremist-motivated gunman who killed two Swedes with stunning ferocity and disappeared into the night. He caused such fear that authorities canceled the Belgium-Sweden soccer match and locked 35,000 fans indoors for several hours as a precaution.
Federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van Duys said the investigation was focused on “a possible terrorist motive for the shooting” after “a statement of responsibility was posted on social media.”
“This person is claiming to be inspired by the Islamic State,” Van Dyce said. “The fact that the victim’s nationality is Swedish is considered to be a likely motive.” In response to a series of incidents of Quran burning in public places by Iraqi refugees living in Sweden, the incident came under threat from Islamic militants. Sweden raised its terror alert status to its second-highest level in August.
“At this point, there is no element to suggest a link to the Israeli-Palestinian situation,” Van Duys said, adding that on a continent where many countries are on high alert fearing attacks related to the Israeli-Hamas war. , provided scant relief.
In Belgium, the Anti-Terrorism Center announced that it had raised the terror alert for the capital region to level 4, the highest level, meaning “the threat is extremely serious.” Previously it was 2, which means the threat is average. The national alert level has been raised to 2.
“I just expressed my sincere condolences.” @Sweden PM “Following tonight’s horrific attacks on Swedish citizens in Brussels,” Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said. “As close partners, the fight against terrorism is joint,” he added on X (formerly Twitter).
As for the soccer match, Van Duys said “urgent safety measures were taken to protect the Swedish supporters” at the national stadium, not far from the soccer match.
More than two hours after the match was suspended, a message appeared on the stadium’s large screens: “To all fans, please remain calm and leave the stadium.” As the search for the gunman continued, streets filled with police were emptied one by one.
“Frustrated, confused and scared. I think everyone was pretty scared,” said fan Caroline Rox from Antwerp.
Interior Minister Anneliese Verlinden said: “A horrifying shooting incident occurred in Brussels and we are actively searching for the perpetrators.”
Media reports showed an amateur video showing a man wearing a fluorescent orange vest arriving on a scooter, dropping his car and then immediately pulling out a large weapon and firing at passersby. In addition to the two Swedes who died, a local taxi driver was injured, but his injuries were not life-threatening.
The attacker then picked up the scooter and sped off into the approaching darkness.
Although only two people were killed in the latest attack, compared with dozens killed in extremist attacks in Europe over the past few years, fear quickly returned.
“I am horrified by the indiscriminate killings in the city center.” #Brussels tonight,” said Roberta Mezzola, President of the European Parliament. “Terrorism and extremism cannot infiltrate our society. People must feel safe. Hate cannot win.”
Associated Press writer Sam Petrekin contributed to this report.