Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a machete attack that wounded two police officers in the Belgian city of Charleroi, calling it an act of reprisal carried out by one of its “soldiers”.
Belgian prosecutors identified the assailant as a 33-year-old Algerian known to police for criminal offences, but not for extremism.
The attack on Saturday afternoon is being treated as a terrorist incident, notably because the man shouted “Allahu akbar” – Arabic for “God is great” – as he slashed at the officers outside Charleroi’s main police station, prime minister Charles Michel said.
The assailant, who was shot by a third officer, died in hospital. A statement by the Islamic State-affiliated Aamaq news agency, posted on Sunday on an Isis-linked Twitter account, said the attack on the officers was in response to the “crusader coalition’s” military campaign against Islamic State and its self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Belgium is a member of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State, and has supplied warplanes for anti-Isis operations.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said the attacker, identified only as KB, had lived in Belgium since 2012. “Since there are indications that the attack may have been inspired by a terrorist motive, the federal prosecutor’s office decided to take over the investigation from the district prosecutor’s office of Charleroi,” the office said in a statement. Two police searches were carried out overnight in the southern Belgian city, but no further information about the investigation would be made public, it added.
Both police officers were “severely injured in the face and neck”, the federal prosecutors’ statement said. Michel said an investigation had begun into what a case of “attempted terrorist murder”.
The prime minister spoke to reporters following an emergency meeting with top Belgian law enforcement officials Sunday morning. Michel cut short his vacation in the south of France to hurry back to Brussels following the Charleroi attack, which had some police unions clamoring for greater protection for police officers and installations.
“We must keep a cool head,” Michel said. “We must avoid panic, of course – not give in to terror. That’s the trap that has been set for us.”
Belgium has been on high alert since the suicide bombings in March, claimed by Isis extremists, that killed 32 people in Brussels. Many of the perpetrators of the attacks in Paris in November that killed 130 people were also residents of Belgium. That attack was also claimed by Islamic State. “We know we must be constantly, constantly vigilant,” Michel said.
Steven Vandeput, defence minister, said the government’s crisis centre would meet to determine if additional measures should be taken to protect police buildings and staff.
On Sunday, Charleroi police posted a request on their Twitter account asking reporters not to divulge officers’ identities. “We are targets,” Charleroi police explained.
Prosecutors said KB was carrying a backpack at the time of the attack, but that a bomb squad search found no explosives or other weapons inside.
On 27 June, Belgium deployed six F-16s to the Middle East for a year as part of the US-led coalition, with orders to strike Islamic State targets while operating in Syrian and Iraqi airspace, the Belgian defence ministry said at the time. Until returning home in July 2015, Belgium F-16s took part in earlier anti-IS missions over Iraq.
Source: The Guardian