Belgium police stabbing suspect on counterterrorism watch list

A knifeman, who killed a police officer and wounded another, was known to authorities before carrying out his attack.

A knifeman who killed one police officer and wounded another in Brussels was on a counterterrorism watch list, according to Belgium’s authorities.

Federal prosecution magistrate Eric Van der Sypt said on Friday that the suspect, Yassine M – born in Brussels in 1990, carried out the attack around the city’s Gard du Nord station after evening rush hour on Thursday.

One of the police officers, identified only as 29-year-old Thomas M, was stabbed in the throat and died shortly afterwards.

The second 23-year-old officer has been operated on for wounds to the right arm and is out of danger.

Police officers stand in an area where two colleagues were stabbed [Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo]

The suspect, who had served six years in prison for “common law offences” between 2013 and 2019, went to a police station earlier on Thursday to express hatred for them.

Tim De Wolf, the head of the Brussels prosecutor’s office, said the man made “incoherent remarks” at the station.

“He spoke of hatred against the police and asked to be taken care of psychologically,” De Wolf said.

Yassine M was taken by officers to the psychiatric emergency room of a Brussels hospital, but was not arrested or detained as he did not meet the criteria for involuntary committal, the officials said.

“He was voluntary,” De Wolf said, explaining that police had left the suspect at the hospital under the care of nurses.

“Later, the police contacted the hospital again to check whether the person had been kept under observation. It turned out that he had left the hospital,” the Brussels prosecutor’s office said.

Yassine was on a list drawn up by the Belgian observatory the Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (OCAM), which monitors “extremism”.

‘Tragedy’

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo posted a message of condolences to the family and friends of the dead officer.

“Our police officers risk their lives every day to ensure the safety of our citizens,” he said. “Today’s tragedy demonstrates this once again.”

Belgian Federal Prosecutor
Belgian federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt and federal prosecutors office spokesman Eric Van Duyse [Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo]

After the stabbings, Yassine was almost immediately shot and wounded by another police officer who had rushed to the scene.

His condition was not disclosed, but authorities said he was still hospitalised on Friday and unable to be interrogated.

But he will now face charges of “murder and attempted murder within a terrorist context”, Van der Sypt said.

Authorities have come under fire for not arresting the suspect when he threatened the police.

The Brussels prosecutor spokeswoman, Sarah Durant, said procedures stipulate that he had to be taken by police to a hospital since he had asked for psychological help.

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