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'ISIS gunman' on the run after two football fans gunned down in streets of Belgium sparking huge manhunt
17 October 2023, 06:43
A huge manhunt is under way following the death of two football fans in central Brussels by a gunman who claimed to be a member of ISIS.
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The victims of the shooting, which took place at around 7pm local time (6pm UK time) were wearing Sweden football shirts ahead of a European Championship qualifier match against Belgium. Another person was wounded in the shooting.
The gunman was said to have shouted “Allahu Akbar" and fired an AK-47 automatic rifle in all directions after getting off a scooter. He then fled on the same scooter.
Authorities said that a man identifying himself as the shooter had claimed to be a member of ISIS. But they said there was "no indication" the attack was linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The football match was later abandoned, after Sweden's players decided not to come out for the second half. Fans were kept inside the stadium for several hours before they were allowed to leave.
Belgium's terror alert has since moved to its highest level in the wake of the attack.
Local media identified the attacker as Abdesalem L, a 45-year-old originally from Tunisia.
The attacker is said to have vowed to "avenge the Muslims" in a post on Facebook. He also referred to the six-year-old US-Palestinian boy who was recently killed.
The Belgian National Crisis Centre said on its website: "Just after seven o'clock this evening, an armed shooting targeted three people at the intersection of Saincteclette and 9de Linielaan, in the center of Brussels.Two people died as a result. A third, a taxi driver, is said to be out of danger. The federal emergency phase has been declared this evening at 9:13 PM.
"During the evening there was a claim on social media. That message was recorded by a person who identifies himself as the attacker.
"He says he is inspired by the Islamic State. During the same message, the Swedish nationality of the victims was cited as a possible motive for the act.
"There is currently no indication that the attack is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Based on these facts and the claim, urgent security measures have been taken to protect the Swedish supporters as best as possible."
The attacker is said to have worn a fluorescent orange vest and appeared to open fire in a street before pursuing the victims into the foyer of a building.
One witness said: "There was soon a crowd, including the police. I saw the victim less than five metres away from me. A man about 40 years old.
"And then a black Mercedes Vito with two or three bullet holes in it.
"Inside was the driver dead. The injured passenger, half his body filled with blood, but conscious."
An investigating source told MailOnline: "He was also screaming about carrying out a revenge attack.
"He was shooting at various people, and hit a number of them. This had all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack."
Many of the country's top officials and politicians have gathered to consider the response to the attack.
Laura Demullier, a spokesperson for the state Crisis Centre, said: "All partners have indeed been called together.
"Everyone is asked to come here as soon as possible to discuss the next move."
Brussels mayor Philippe Close moved to reassure the city's residents after the attack.
"Following the shooting in Brussels, the police have mobilised to secure the city and the surrounding areas, working with the minister of the interior" he said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo sent his "deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims of the cowardly attack in Brussels".
French President Emmanuel Macron called the killings an "Islamist terrorist attack".
He said: "A few minutes ago, Brussels was hit again by an Islamist terrorist attack which apparently, as I speak to you, took the lives of at least two other Europeans, two Swedes. Our Europe is being shaken up".
It comes after a French teacher was killed last week, with the killer said to be an adherent of radical Islam.
The Swedish national team was playing Belgium at Heysel Stadium, around three miles away from where the attack took place.
A UEFA spokesperson said: "Following a suspected terrorist attack in Brussels this evening, it has been decided, after consultation with the two teams and the local police authorities, that the qualifying match between Belgium and Sweden is abandoned."
Belgium has suffered several Islamist terrorist attacks in recent years, among them a 2016 bombing on the Brussels metro that killed 32 people and injured hundreds more. Eight of the attackers were sentenced in September.