Terrorism For Members

What we know so far about the terror attack on Swedes in Brussels

The Local Sweden
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What we know so far about the terror attack on Swedes in Brussels
Police and inspectors in the area where the shooting took place in the centre of Brussels. Photo: AP Photo/Nicolas Landemard

Two Swedes were shot dead and another was injured in Brussels by a man who claimed to be a 'soldier from the Islamic State'. What do we know so far about the Brussels terror attack?


What happened?

Two Swedes - one man in his 60s and another man in his 70s, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reports - were shot dead in Brussels late on Monday by a gunman in an attack Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo described as "terrorism".

A third individual – also a Swede in his 70s – was injured in the attack. Officials said his injuries were serious, but not life threatening.

The man in his 60s lived in Switzerland, while the two men in their 70s were based in Stockholm.

The victims were in Brussels for a football match – the Belgium-Sweden Euro 2024 qualifier – and it appears the gunman was specifically targeting Swedes.

The shooting took place in the city centre's northern districts. Police were alerted to the incident after 7pm local time.

In a video shared online by Flemish tabloid Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN), the shooter is seen with an automatic weapon on his shoulder, fleeing on a scooter. Four gunshots can be heard in the video.

The suspected gunman, named as Abdesalem Lassoued in Belgian media, was arrested early on Tuesday morning after officers opened fire in a café in central Brussels. The Belgian government confirmed later on Tuesday morning that he had been shot and died of his injuries.


Who is behind it?

Lassoued, aged 45 of Tunisian origin, lived in Brussels, report several Belgian media. He goes by the name Slayem Slouma, DN reports.

He applied for asylum in Belgium in 2019, according to Belgian's Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Nicole de Moor.

His application was rejected in October 2020, after which he went under the radar. Belgian security services received a tipoff in June 2022 that he was spotted in a mosque in Brussels, but the information did not lead to an arrest, DN reports.


"As the man had gone into hiding, we were not able to deport him," de Moor told a press conference.

Authorities were so certain of his departure that he was removed from Belgium's population register in February 2021.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in a press conference on Tuesday that Lassoued had "been in Sweden periodically".

Fredrik Hallström, head of operations at the Swedish Security Service (Säpo) confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the man was "in Sweden for a short period around ten years ago," and that he may have used multiple different identities when travelling in Europe and elsewhere.

The Swedish Migration Agency said that he had served prison time between 2012 and 2014, after which he was made to leave Sweden under the Dublin Regulation, which stipulates that migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.

Lassoued is believed to have been living in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood of Brussels, close to the crime scene and the café where he was found by police, and fled on a scooter after the shooting.

The Schaerbeek neighbourhood is the same area of Brussels where a number of terrorists behind the 2015 Brussels airport and metro terror attacks lived in hiding while planning their attacks, Swedish news agency TT reports.

He has previously been accused of crimes in Tunisia, Belgian justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said, although not terror crimes.


Why was he targeting Swedes?

We don't know why he was targeting Swedes, but Lassoued said the Swedish nationality of his victims was a motivation, the spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office, Eric Van Duyse, said on the LN24 news channel. 

In a video posted to social media on Monday, Lassoued said "he was inspired by the Islamic State" (Isis) extremist group, Van Duyse said.

In the video, Lassoued describes himself as "a warrior on is way to Allah" and in another clip said he was "a soldier from the Islamic State". This reference to Isis has led Belgian police to classify the attack as a terror attack.

Lassoued was active on social media and had commented the murder of a 6-year-old Palestinan-American boy in the US the day before the attack, HLN reports.

A few hours before the attack, Lassoued made multiple posts referencing the situation in Gaza.

According to Belgian federal prosecutors however, there are no direct indications of any links between the attack in Brussels and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Several terror groups, including al-Qaida and Isis, have called for "revenge attacks" on Sweden and neighbouring Denmark after highly-publicised Quran-burning incidents over the past year.

Lassoued also had a TikTok account, DN reports. He was inactive, but followed a number of Islamist accounts, including one called "Sweden Injustice", which spreads conspiracy theories including the theory that Swedish social services kidnap Muslim children.

The Islamic State group (also known as IS, Isis or Daesh) on Tuesday claimed responsibility, saying the attack targeted Sweden for its membership in a global coalition battling jihadists.

"An Islamic State fighter carried out an attack against" Swedish nationals on Monday, Isis said in a statement issued on the jihadists' news arm Amaq, adding that, "the attack comes in the context of operations called for by the Islamic State to target nationals of coalition countries".

Sweden is among dozens of nations in the Global Coalition against Daesh, formed in 2014 after the militants seized huge swathes of Iraq and Syria.

However, it appears as though Lassoued acted as a lone wolf.


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