Belgian police on Tuesday shot and killed a 45-year-old Tunisian suspected of gunning down two Swedish football fans in Brussels in what authorities described as a “terrorist attack”, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden has said.
The suspect, identified as Abdesalem Lassoued, was pronounced dead shortly after he was taken to hospital after an intensive manhunt overnight in the capital.
Belgian media said he was shot in the chest during his arrest by police in the neighbourhood of Schaerbeek.
“The author of the terrorist attack in Brussels was identified and has passed away,” wrote Ms Verlinden on X.
“We thank the security and intelligence services as well as the prosecutor's office for their decisive and rapid intervention last night and this morning.”
Lassoued was an ISIS fighter, the militant group announced through its Amaq News Agency on Tuesday evening.
"The sources explained that the attack comes in the context of operations called for by the [ISIS] to target citizens of coalition countries," the statement on Amaq said.
The admission marks the first ISIS message to take credit for a lone-wolf incident in the West since the 2020 Vienna attack.
Police found the same weapon used in Monday evening's fatal attack near where Abdesalem L was when they arrested him, Ms Verlinden told broadcaster VRT. Authorities are also searching for accomplices, according to local media.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo earlier said the suspect was a man of Tunisian origin who had been living in Belgium illegally.
“The terrorist attack that happened yesterday was committed with total cowardice; the attacker chose as a target two Swedish football fans,” Mr de Croo said. A third person was seriously injured.
Abdesalem Lassoued “was known to the police for suspected acts of human trafficking, illegal residence and endangering state security”, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said in a statement on Monday.
He had been convicted in Tunisia “for common law offences”, but was not considered a terrorist risk, Mr Van Quickenborne added.
He filed an asylum request in November 2019, which was rejected the following year, said Nicole de Moor, the state secretary for asylum and migration.
Prosecutors later said they believed he acted alone and not as part of a terrorist network
“The hypothesis of the lone wolf seems the most likely,” federal magistrate Frederic Van Leeuw said, as authorities lowered the Brussels region threat level after police shot the suspect.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry said the victims who died were a man in his seventies from Stockholm and a man in his sixties who lived abroad. The injured man is also in his seventies.
Sweden has been at the centre of a bitter row with some Muslim countries this year after several public burnings of the Quran.
The country has never in modern times faced a bigger threat against its security, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Tuesday, qualifying the attack that killed two Swedes a “terror attack”.
“Sweden has in modern times never been under as big a threat as now,” Kristersson told reporters.
In a video posted in Arabic on social media, a man identifying himself as the attacker said “he was inspired by the Islamic State” (ISIS) extremist group, prosecutors said.
The gunman, wearing a high-visibility orange jacket, fled on a scooter and Belgian authorities raised the terror alert for Brussels to level four or “very serious” – the highest – and level three nationally.
Prosecutors said the attacker in his video had indicated the Swedish nationality of his victims was a motivation, but there appeared to be no links with the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.
The attack has added to security tensions with France's Versailles Palace, which closed after a bomb threat, and in Italy two suspected members of ISIS were arrested on charges of inciting terror offences.
On Saturday, both Versailles and the Louvre in Paris were evacuated over security alerts, a day after France raised its security alert level to the maximum when a teacher was fatally stabbed.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said: “Devastated by the news of two Swedish football supporters murdered in Brussels tonight and a third person being seriously wounded. All my thoughts are with their families and loved ones.”
“Swedish authorities work closely with their Belgian partners to find the murderer,” he added on social media.
As news spread of the killings, the Group F European Championship qualifier was abandoned at half-time and about 35,000 fans were evacuated from the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.
Officers provided extra protection for Swedish citizens at the game, escorting Sweden's players directly to the airport to leave safely, Belgium's football association chief executive told the RTBF channel.
The President of the European Commission, which is based in Brussels, was quick to condemn the attack.
“My thoughts are with the families of the two victims of the despicable attack in Brussels,” Ursula von der Leyen posted on social media.
“Together, we stand united against terror.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe was “shaken” by the “Islamist” attack in Brussels, while France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had earlier given instructions to strengthen border controls with Belgium.
Belgium was the target of an attack claimed by ISIS extremists in March 2016, at Brussels' main airport and on the metro system, which killed 32 people.