October 17: In the middle of the center of Brussels, a man shoots at passers-by, kills two Swedish football fans and flees. The police later shot the suspect, but IS has since claimed responsibility for the crime. So terror returns again. The attacker drove up on a motor scooter not far from the canal in downtown Brussels, shot two Swedes and seriously injured another man, who also has Swedish nationality. The attacker shouted “Allahu akbar” before opening fire with an assault rifle. At least one of his victims was wearing a Swedish soccer jersey; the men were apparently on their way to Sweden’s European Championship qualifier against Belgium at the King Baudouin Stadium.
The perpetrator, a 45-year-old Tunisian, was initially able to escape. A day later, the police tracked him down in a café, where he was fatally shot. In a confessional video, the man said he had sworn allegiance to IS and boasted: “Now I have killed three Swedes. I thank God.” He had applied for asylum in Belgium in 2019, but was rejected the following year and was known to the authorities for various crimes related to human trafficking, illegal residence and endangering state security. According to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, he was staying in Belgium illegally.
Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne has resigned following criticism of his work in connection with the terrorist attack. Van Quickenborne spoke of a “huge mistake”. That’s why he submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. The investigation revealed that the Belgian judicial authorities had ignored a request from Tunisia to extradite the later murderer in August 2022. “I want to take full political responsibility for this,” Van Quickenborne added. It initially remained unclear why the extradition request was not processed by the judge. According to the judiciary, 31 international extradition requests were handed to this judge last year. 30 he worked on, except that of the later assassin. According to Italian authorities, it had been known since 2016 that he was an Islamist.
After the attack, the authorities declared the highest terror alert level and advised citizens to stay at home. Companies and institutions recommended that their employees work from home while the police combed the Schaerbeek district, where the Islamist is said to have last lived and where they initially only found his black scooter. Access was only achieved in the morning, more than twelve hours after the first shots. According to authorities, police found the man in a cafe in Schaerbeek after a witness recognized him.
Terrorist organizations called on Muslims across Europe to “take revenge.” The apparently Islamist motive is related to the Quran burnings that have been taking place repeatedly in Sweden since the beginning of the year. After the 57 member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned Sweden in the summer for allowing such public “desecrations of our holy book,” various terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, IS, al-Shabab and Hezbollah, called for attacks. For example, the as-Sahab Media Foundation, which belongs to al-Qaeda, called on Muslims across Europe to “take revenge” on Denmark and Sweden for the burning of the Quran. It described it as the sacred duty of all Muslims to attack “these aggressive people”: “Denmark and Sweden are two small, despicable countries, just two small spots on the world map. Muslims in Denmark, Sweden and all of Europe, the duty of revenge weighs on them you.”
At the time, Swedish terrorism expert Hans Brun, who teaches at King’s College in London, said this call was aimed specifically at “lone perpetrators.” At that time, the Swedish state security agency Säpo had declared terror alert level four (on a scale of five) for the whole of Sweden. In addition, border controls were tightened at the beginning of August. Even before the Quran burnings, Sweden was portrayed as a new enemy by Islamist groups: Since December 2021, fake news has been spread on social media that Sweden would take children away from Muslim families and put them up for adoption. Sometimes it was said that the children were forced to eat pork, and sometimes that they were being sold to pedophile criminals. There was talk of 20,000 children. These videos were shared millions of times, along with calls to boycott the “fascist” country.
According to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the attacker in Brussels is said to have repeatedly visited the “Sweden Injustice” website, on which this and other conspiracy stories are ventilated. However, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office did also not rule out a connection with the Middle East conflict. A few hours before the attack, the Islamist terrorist had published several posts on social networks that referred to the situation in Gaza, including: “The victory of the vulnerable Muslims in Gaza is the duty of every Muslim.” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a press conference that the Tunisian attacker had been to Sweden several times but had never come to the attention of the police. “We have to protect our open, democratic society,” said Kristersson. “We have to stand up for our own values and stick to them. We are not the ones who adapt to terrorists.” The Swedish Foreign Ministry called on all Swedes to “exercise increased caution and vigilance and follow the advice of local authorities.”
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