Belgian authorities raised the terror alert to its highest level in the capital late Monday after the fatal shooting of two Swedes in Brussels that Prime Minister Alexander De Croo suggested was linked to “terrorism.”
Belgium’s Co-ordination Unit for Threat Analysis also said that the terror alert for the rest of the country was raised to its second-highest level.
Laura Demullier of the terrorism centre said in an interview that the highest priority for authorities now was to get thousands of football fans attending the Belgium-Sweden soccer match safely out of the stadium where the match had been abandoned halfway through.
The killings happened some five kilometres from the stadium, where more than 35,000 fans were watching the game. The shooter was still at large.
“The population needs to be actively vigilant and avoid any unnecessary travel,” Demullier said.
Raising the terror alert to Level 4, the top rating, means that a “threat is extremely serious.” It previously stood at Level 2, which means the threat was average.
“I have just offered my sincere condolences to #SwedishPM following tonight’s harrowing attack on Swedish citizens in Brussels,” De Croo said. He added on X, formerly known as Twitter, “As close partners the fight against terrorism is a joint one.”
Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer called the news of the shootings “terrible” in a statement to Reuters.
“Tonight we have received terrible news from Brussels. The Government office and relevant authorities are working intensively to get more information about what happened,” Strommer said.
The Swedish government was in direct contact with the Belgian government, he added.
Motive for shooting not clear
It was not immediately clear if the shooting was linked to the international uproar over the Israel-Hamas war.
“A horrible shooting in Brussels, and the perpetrator is actively being tracked down,” said Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden, adding that she was joining government talks at the National Crisis Centre.
Media reports aired amateur videos showing a man shooting several times near a station using a large weapon.
A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said the two victims were Swedes.
Police spokesperson Ilse Vande Keere said officers arrived quickly at the scene and sealed off the immediate neighbourhood. She declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the shooting.
The shooting came at a time of increased vigilance linked to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which has heightened tension in several European nations. At the same time, the Belgian capital has been the scene of increased violence linked to international drug trafficking.
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