Sunday 25 March 2018

Latest Belgian attack reignites fears over Isil's EU campaign

Machete-wielding attacker killed after assault on two female police officers

CONFLICT ZONE: A fighter in Aleppo’s artillery academy yesterday. Photo: Ammar Abdullah
CONFLICT ZONE: A fighter in Aleppo’s artillery academy yesterday. Photo: Ammar Abdullah

Bassem Mroue

Two Belgian policewomen on guard outside a police station in the city of Charleroi were wounded in a machete attack yesterday by an assailant who shouted "Allahu Akbar!"

The attacker was shot in the chest and the leg by a third officer, also a woman. He was taken to hospital where he later died. His name was not immediately known.

One of the policewomen suffered severe face wounds when the assailant slashed her several times. She was being treated in hospital last night but her injuries were not life-threatening. Her colleague was less seriously injured.

The attacker arrived at a checkpoint outside the police station just before 4pm local time and immediately took a machete out of his bag before lunging at the officer, and repeatedly hacking at her head, witnesses said.

The checkpoint was designed to foil direct attacks on the police station but the assault highlighted the vulnerability of officers responsible for checking visitors before allowing them in.

As the assailant lunged at the officers, he yelled "Allahu Akbar!" ("God is great" in Arabic), police said.

Despite the outburst, the case was being handled by criminal rather than counter-terrorist prosecutors.

A police spokesman said: "The investigation will have to show why the man staged the attack, and whether he maybe had mental problems."

Police cordoned off the area around Boulevard Pierre Mainz, where the attack took place.

The attack came less than five months after coordinated bomb blasts in Brussels killed 32 people. Charleroi, 30 miles south of Brussels, was used as a base by some of the jihadists involved in the Brussels bombings and attacks in Paris last November that left 130 dead.

A spate of attacks by Islamist extremists in western Europe - including the murder of an 85-year-old French priest and the Bastille Day massacre of 85 people in Nice - has intensified public anxiety about terrorism.

French police have been allowed to take their guns home since a jihadist murdered a French couple - both police officers - at their home in June.

France expelled a Malian suspected of "belonging to a pro-jihadist Islamist movement" and believed to pose a "serious threat" to national security, the interior minister has announced.

Vincent Gilles, vice president of SLFP, the biggest police trade union in Belgium, urged the Belgian government to "re-evaluate" the current level of threat in the country.

On Saturday, he told a TV station that police had been "expecting" an attack similar to the one in Charleroi after a raid against a jihadist cell in Verviers in eastern Belgium in January 2015. The authorities disrupted what is thought to have been a terrorist plot to attack Belgian police.

The attacks come as experts fear that gains by coalition forces fighting Isil in Syria will convince the terror group to increase their focus on European attacks.

In Syria, US-backed forces trying to oust Isil from the northern city of Manbij took "almost complete control" of the city yesterday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG militia and Arab fighters, launched its campaign two months ago with the backing of US special forces to drive Isil from a last stretch of the Syrian-Turkish frontier.

The official spokesman of the SDF-allied Manbij military council said that battles were continuing but that around 90pc of the city had now been cleared of the ultra hard-line Sunni militants.

A spokesman for the US coalition said there had been "continued progress" in Manbij, and the coalition would continue to support the SDF for as long as needed.

Manbij is in the northern province of Aleppo, which forms a theatre for several separate battles between multiple warring sides in Syria's five-year-old conflict.

Meanwhile in the regional capital of Aleppo - under siege from Assad's forces, backed by Russia - Syrian insurgent groups launched a fresh offensive yesterday seeking to break the siege on rebel-held neighbourhoods in the northern stronghold, triggering intense clashes and airstrikes on the southern edge of the metropolis.


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