Brussels is on its highest level of security alert after two Swedes were shot dead in in the centre of the city, by a gunman who federal prosecutors said claimed to be inspired by Islamic State.
A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said the suspect remains at large and told residents to stay indoors. “Go home and stay at home until the threat has been eradicated,” they said.
The gunman, who was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket and using an automatic rifle, fled the scene after the incident, according to a video shared by the Flemish newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
Media reports aired amateur videos showing a man firing several shots near a station using a large weapon. Belgian broadcasters said the two victims were Swedes. A third shooting victim, a taxi driver was wounded and receiving treatment in hospital, the prosecutors’ spokesman said.
The threat level in the Belgian capital was raised to level 4, and in the rest of the country to level 3. Raising the terror level to the top rating of 4 means a threat is extremely serious; it previously stood at 2, which means the threat is average.
EU sources said concerns had been growing that the Israeli-Hamas conflict would increase security risks in Europe, and a rise in antisemitic attacks has already been seen in the UK.
But the prosecutors’ spokesperson said that the Swedish nationality of the victims may have been a possible motive, adding that at this stage there was no evidence of a link to the Israel-Gaza war.
Sweden raised its terror alert to the second highest level in August after a series of public burnings of the Qur’an by an Iraqi refugee living in Sweden resulted in threats from Islamic militant groups.
“I have just offered my sincere condolences to @SwedishPM following tonight’s harrowing attack on Swedish citizens in Brussels,” Alexander De Croo tweeted. “As close partners, the fight against terrorism is a joint one.”
The Swedish national football team were in the middle of a match against Belgium at King Baudouin Stadium, about 3 miles (5km) away, but the match was abandoned at half-time and the crowd was instructed to stay inside the stadium.
Laura Demullier of Belgium’s OCAD anti-terror centre said the highest priority for the authorities was to get more than 35,000 football fans attending the Belgium-Sweden football match safely out of the stadium.
“The population needs to be actively vigilant and avoid any unnecessary travel,” Demullier said.
“A horrible shooting in Brussels, and the perpetrator is actively being tracked down,” said the interior minister, Annelies Verlinden, adding that she was joining government talks at the National Crisis Centre.
Sweden’s justice minister, Gunnar Strömmer, said: “Tonight we have received terrible news from Brussels. The government office and relevant authorities are working intensively to get more information about what happened.
A video claiming responsibility for the shooting was circulating on social media, featuring a man speaking Arabic, a source close to the case said.
A police spokesperson, Ilse Vande Keere, said officers arrived at the scene and sealed off the immediate neighbourhood. She declined to elaborate on the circumstances of the shooting.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, which represents member states in Europe, said: “The heart of Europe is hit by violence. My heart goes out to the families of the victims of the deadly attack in the centre of Brussels.
“My support for the Belgian authorities and security services who are monitoring the situation.”
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said her thoughts were with the families of the victims of the “despicable attack in Brussels,” adding: “Together, we stand united against terror.”
The French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, ordered the strengthening of security controls at the border with Belgium while the perpetrator remains at large.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/16/people-killed-brussels-shooting-police-say Brussels on high alert as two Swedes killed in shooting and suspect remains at large | Belgium