Belgian shooter murdered another person before Liege attack, police say

The attacker is believed to have been radicalized by Islamists in prison.
May 30, 2018, 9:30am
Associated Press 

The shooter who killed three people, including two policewomen, in the Belgian city of Liege Tuesday had murdered another man the previous night, Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon said Wednesday.

The attacker, Benjamin Herman, had killed the first victim — a former prisoner who had done time with Herman — by bashing him over the head with a blunt object, the official said.

Herman committed the killing spree, which prosecutors are investigating as an act of terrorism, while on temporary leave from prison to prepare him for his eventual release.

Here’s what we know about Tuesday's deadly attack.

  • The attack in Liege took place Tuesday at around 10:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. ET) near a cafe in the city center, when Herman, carrying a boxcutter, approached two policewomen from behind and stabbed them several times, according to Philippe Dulieu, a spokesman for Belgian prosecutors.
  • Dulieu said the attacker then took one of the officers’ weapons, and shot both officers dead, before shooting and killing a 22-year-old man who was a passenger in a vehicle parked nearby.
  • The attacker then took refuge in a nearby high school, where he took a female cleaner hostage. Armed police arrived at the scene, and a gun battle broke out as the attacker emerged from the building, firing on police and sending bystanders running for cover. The attacker was shot dead and four police officers were wounded in the exchange, one of them with a serious leg injury, officials said.
  • Prosecutors are treating the attack as an act of terrorism, Dulieu told reporters, and Liege police chief Christian Beaupere said the gunman's objective was to target police. Quoting a police source, Footage of the attack showed Herman shouting “Allahu Akbar” during his rampage.
  • Reports said Herman was known to police for crimes including violence and robbery, and had been serving a sentence for drug trafficking. Citing a source close to the investigation, AFP reported that Herman was believed to have been radicalized in prison, and Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel said he had been indirectly mentioned in state security reports on radicalization, but had not been considered a sufficient threat to be placed on a watchlist. The attack has highlighted the susceptibility of criminals, including those who don't come from Muslim backgrounds, of being radicalized by Islamist extremists in jail.
  • Jambon said Wednesday that Herman had killed a former fellow inmate, Michael Wilmet, in the southern town of On, where Herman had been temporarily released to stay with his grandmother. Wilmet was a 30-year-old heroin addict who had been serving a sentence for drug offences. Belgian media, citing police sources, reported that Herman and Wilmet may have been partners in a botched robbery prior to Wilmet's death. Jambon told Belgian radio Wednesday that the murder of Wilmet may have been a trigger for Herman to go on his rampage: "He no longer had any perspective in our society, he had committed a murder the night before."
  • Belgian authorities have been on alert for terror attacks since ISIS suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and subway system in 2016. A Brussels-based ISIS cell was also involved in the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, which left 130 people dead. Liege, Belgium's third-largest city, located in the east of the country, was the scene of a deadly grenade and gun attack seven years ago that killed six people and injured more than 100.

READ: Belgium’s Molenbeek struggles with stigma one year after ISIS shook the city

Cover image: Forensic police investigate at the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, Tuesday, May 29, 2018.(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)