Belgian officials link man who attacked, killed police to a 4th homicide
Latest revelation means that Benjamin Herman, on 2-day release from prison, killed 4 people in total
The man who killed three people during a knife and shooting rampage through the Belgian city of Liege carried out an act of "terrorist murder," prosecutors said Wednesday, and authorities were trying to establish whether he acted alone.
Benjamin Herman, an inmate on a two-day release, attacked two female police officers with a knife from behind, stabbing them repeatedly, before stealing their weapons and shooting them as they lay on the ground, officials said. Crossing the road, he fired several shots at a 22-year old man who was a passenger in a car, killing him. Herman then took at least one woman hostage at a nearby school. When police closed in, he ran out onto the sidewalk firing and police fatally shot him.
He yelled "Allahu akbar," the Arabic phrase for God is great, several times during the rampage, authorities said.
Belgian federal magistrate Wenke Roggen said Wednesday that the attack was considered "terrorist murder." She said it's being treated as terrorism given the way Herman acted, which she says resembled Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) calls via video to attack police with knives and steal their weapons, the fact that he yelled "Allahu Akbar" and was in contact with radicalized people.
On Wednesday night, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said that the man behind the attack was a "soldier of the caliphate" — a wording typical of ISIS' opportunistic claims even when perpetrators have not been directly linked to the terrorist group. The announcement was made in a brief statement through the ISIS media arm, Aamaq news agency.
Earlier, Interior Minister Jan Jambon confirmed that Herman had already killed another person the day before the attack.
"He also committed a murder the night before," Jambon told broadcaster RTL. Jambon confirmed that the fourth victim was a former inmate who did prison time with Herman. Herman is alleged to have killed the man on Monday evening by hitting him over the head with a blunt object.
Memorials held in several cities
Jambon also said that the woman he took hostage may have talked the shooter down and helped to avoid more deaths inside the school.
Jambon, Prime Minister Charles Michel and King Philippe visited the woman in hospital, where she was being treated for shock.
"She was very courageous and perhaps, but this we will have to verify, she helped avoid more victims in the school," Jambon said.
The minister said an investigation has been launched into the incident, including the circumstances surrounding his release from prison.
"It's really an isolated case. He wasn't part of a network, he didn't receive instructions from anyone else, so there is no need to raise the terror threat alert level," Jambon said, adding that investigators have no precise information that any other attacks might be likely.
Amid questions about how two officers could have been disarmed, Jambon praised the work of all involved, saying "the police did an extraordinary job."
"They reacted well. All the systems, all the procedures worked. But if you are attacked from behind, as was the case with the two officers, you can't do anything," he said.
Belgians took time Wednesday to honour the victims of the Liege attacks with solemn moments of silence or by laying flowers at memorials.
The main ceremony was in Liege itself where Prime Minister Charles Michel and Interior Minister Jan Jambon joined local dignitaries and police.
In Liege, resident Melissa Lamny attached a flower to a post close to the shooting scene.
Lamny said "that's touched me really bad, because that is where I live and every morning I am scared that something like this will happen and every day it happens a little bit closer to home."
In Brussels and Antwerp, too, policemen and security officials gathered to mourn the loss of their two colleagues.