Fatal stabbing of Belgian officer raises security concerns

Fatal stabbing of Belgian officer raises security concerns


Belgian authorities faced questions on Friday about how a convict on a terrorism watch list stabbed a police officer to death hours after he made threats and demanded psychiatric treatment.

Between 2016 and 2018, Belgium faced a spate of deadly jihadist attacks, and police unions and politicians were quick to blame the security flaws currently in office in the latest case.

The defendant is said to have borrowed through a car window outside a main train station, stabbed two officers in their 20s, killed one after slitting his throat and rushed the other to hospital on Thursday.

Other officers arrived at the scene and shot dead the suspect, who was receiving medical treatment.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo paid tribute to the slain officer and Home Secretary Annelies Verlinden said she was “heartbroken” by the attack.

But a police union declared the death “one too many incidents” and called on colleagues to join a protest on November 28 over what they saw as lax treatment of suspected extremists.

Some political leaders, such as Georges-Louis Bouchez, leader of the liberal MR party, have called for an investigation into how the suspect freely carried out his attack.

“How could a person identified as a terrorist threat on the OCAM list be released by a judge after saying he wanted to attack the police? Unacceptable,” he said.

The suspect in Thursday’s fatal stabbing, 32-year-old Brussels-born “Yassine M.” had previously been jailed on a violent robbery charge, officials told AFP.

– incoherent remarks –

His behavior deteriorated in prison and in 2015 he was placed in a deradicalisation programme. After his release in 2019, he was included in Belgium’s official database of extremists.

This list, maintained by the Coordination Center for Threat Analysis (OCAM), includes around 700 “known extremists and terrorists in the country who are subject to priority surveillance”.

On Thursday, the suspect presented himself at a Brussels police station and made what Brussels prosecutor Tim De Wolf described as “incoherent remarks”.

“He spoke of hatred against the police and asked for psychological support,” said De Wolf.

Yassine M. was taken by officers to the psychiatric emergency department of a Brussels hospital but was not arrested or detained because he did not meet criteria for compulsory placement, officials said.

Leaving the hospital later that same day, he encountered two patrol officers in their car, stopped at a red light near the Gare du Nord train station in central Brussels.

Investigators told reporters that the suspect shouted “Allahu akbar” – “God is greatest” – as he crashed through the window into the car and stabbed the patrol officers.

An officer identified as 29-year-old Thomas M. was injured in the neck and died shortly thereafter. The second officer, 23-year-old Jason P., underwent surgery for wounds to his right arm.

The officers managed to sound the alarm, and a second patrol arriving at the scene shot Yassine M. and arrested him. He is being treated in hospital for gunshot wounds.

Vincent Gilles, leader of the police union SLFP, wanted to know why the suspect was allowed to leave the hospital despite threats.

“The families have the right to get answers as soon as possible. The political, legal and medical actors must take a stand and not remain silent,” he said.

– Islamist attacks –

But officials said a 1990 law severely limits who can be detained on mental health grounds.

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

“The police later contacted the hospital again to check if the person was under surveillance. It turned out that he had left the hospital,” said the Brussels public prosecutor.

The trial of those accused of involvement in the 2016 attacks by the Islamic State group, which killed 32 people at the city’s main airport and in a crowded metro station, is underway in Brussels.

Between 2016 and 2018 there were several deadly Islamist terrorist attacks against the police or military in Belgium.

The last attack classified as a terrorist offense took place in the city of Liege in May 2018, when a radicalized attacker shot dead two female police officers and a student before being gunned down by officers.

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