Saturday 23 June 2018

Attacker kills two policewomen with own guns

A police officer at the scene of the shooting in Liege. Photos: Reuters
A police officer at the scene of the shooting in Liege. Photos: Reuters

James Crisp

A gunman shot dead two police officers and a passer-by in a suspected terror attack yesterday morning in the centre of the Belgian city of Liege.

He was later killed in a shoot-out after taking a cleaning lady hostage outside a school.

A man is consoled at the scene of the shooting in Liege, Belgium. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
A man is consoled at the scene of the shooting in Liege, Belgium. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

The shooter (36) was named locally as Benjamin Herman, from Rochefort, a city about an hour from Liege.

He was well-known to police after a string of crimes including robbery, assault and drug-dealing.

Local media reported that Herman was temporarily released from prison for several hours on Monday night for "family leave" to prepare his reintegration into society, despite a prison service assessment that he was very violent.

Belgium's federal prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into whether the attack was terror-related.

Police near the body of the attacker. Photo: Reuters
Police near the body of the attacker. Photo: Reuters

Herman was not on the government's list of suspected potential terrorists, according to local media, but had been in touch with radicalised prisoners during his several stints in jail.

There were reports he shouted "Allahu Akbar" before murdering the two female officers and a 22-year-old man but those claims have not been confirmed by the Belgian authorities.

The Liege prosecutor's office said the gunman had "hunted down" the two police officers, who were checking parking meters, before attacking them from behind with a knife.

After stabbing them multiple times, Herman took the officers' guns and shot them both dead. He opened fire on the man, who was in a car, before taking a cleaning woman hostage in the entrance to a nearby school.

Two other police officers were injured in the legs in the ensuing shoot-out at the school gate before Herman was "neutralised" by elite officers.

The cleaner was reported to be "safe and healthy".

Pupils at the school were evacuated and have been offered counselling.

Belgian media reported that Herman could have also killed hours before the shooting, linking him to a murder in On, Luxembourg.

The body of a man shot in the head was found after a jewellery robbery in Rochefort earlier that evening.

Images on social media showed people fleeing for safety on Liege's central boulevard, with shots and sirens being heard in the background.

One video showed two police in body armour moving into position. Shots were heard at 9.30am local time. The gunman was confirmed dead around 30 minutes later.

Charles Michel, the prime minister of Belgium, condemned the "blind and cowardly violence" in Liege and offered his support for the victims and their families. Mr Michel and Belgium's King Philippe visited the city yesterday.

A minute's silence will be held tomorrow and flags flown at half-mast at Liege's town hall, where a book of condolences has been opened.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed the "solidarity of the French people with the Belgian people" after hosting an international peace conference on Libya.

Belgium's anti-terrorist crisis centre was monitoring the situation, interior minister Jan Jambon said on Twitter.

The country's terror threat level remains on two, which represents an "unlikely" terror threat.

Liege, an industrial city close to the German border in the French-speaking Wallonia region, was also the scene of a shooting in 2011, when a gunman killed four people and wounded over 100 before turning the gun on himself.

Belgium has been on high alert since a Brussels-based Isil cell was involved in attacks on Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people and Brussels in 2016 in which 32 died.

Daily Telegraph, London

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