An attack on Tuesday that killed two policewomen and a male bystander in the Belgian city of Liege is being treated as “terrorist murder,” prosecutors said Wednesday.
The gunman, identified as 31-year-old Benjamin Herman, is also suspected in the killing of a fourth person on the eve of his rampage, federal prosecutors’ spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told a press conference.
“The facts are qualified as terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder,” Van Der Sypt said, referring also to the shootings that wounded four other police officers.
Herman was killed in a shootout with police on Tuesday after stabbing two female police officers, stealing their handguns and shooting them. He also shot dead a man sitting in a nearby car.
Prosecutors said this assessment was based on a number of “first elements” from the investigation, including the “modus operandi” of attacking police with a knife and stealing their firearms, which the Islamic State group has encouraged in online videos.
Van Der Sypt said they also based their argument on the fact he shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest” in Arabic.
Finally, Van Der Sypt said, there were reports from state security and regional authorities that the perpetrator had “been in touch with radicalized persons.”
The killer “is also suspected of a manslaughter in On, Marche-en-Famenne,” in southern Belgium, he added.
Earlier Wednesday, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the person Herman killed in On 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.
“The exact circumstances of this offense are the subject of a separate investigation,” Van Der Sypt said.
Belgium remains on high alert after a string of attacks, including twin suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 claimed by the Islamic State group.
A source close to the investigation told AFP that the gunman was on a special police watchlist because of his contacts with radical Islamists.
The source said Herman had past convictions for robbery, violence, and drug dealing.
He was reported by Belgian broadcaster RTBF to have been released from prison on Monday.
“He is suspected of having been radicalized [in prison]… He has been reported or presumed to be belonging to the entourage of an Islamist recruiter,” the source said on condition of anonymity.