Knifeman who killed Brussels police officer was on a terrorist watch list

Accused stabbed two officers as their patrol car waited at a red light, before he was shot by police

Belgian police officers in the area where two colleagues were stabbed in Brussels.  AP
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A knifeman who killed a police officer in Brussels, Belgium, and wounded a second, was on a terrorist watch list over fears he had been radicalised in prison, officials said on Friday.

The man, identified as Yassine M, attacked the officers as they waited at a red traffic light in their patrol car at 7.15pm on Thursday.

A citizen of Belgium, the 32-year-old stabbed the driver in the neck and a second officer in the arm, said Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman of the prosecutor's office.

Only hours earlier he had been taken to a psychiatric ward after entering a police station and threatening to harm officers.

"The passenger managed to call for assistance by radio and stated the attacker had shouted 'Allahu Akbar'," Mr Van Der Sypt said.

The officer named as Thomas Monjoie, 29, succumbed to his wounds in hospital.

His 23-year old colleague, who had only recently graduated as a police recruit, underwent surgery on Thursday evening and was in a stable condition, the spokesman said.

On Friday, federal prosecutors said the accused was on a watch list of potential extremists kept by Belgium's anti-terrorism agency and also on a list of people who it was feared had been radicalised in prison.

Since 2016 he has been on the CELEX list, the list of the Prison Extremism Cell, officials said.

“The man was on the Co-ordination Body for Threat Analysis' (Ocad) list,” said Mr Van der Sypt, referring to the organisation that assesses terrorism threats in Belgium.

The attack occurred near the usually busy Brussels Nord station, after the evening rush hour.

A spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor's office, Sarah Durant, said the suspect had made “unhinged remarks” during a discussion with officers hours before the attack.

The knifeman who fatally stabbed a Brussels police officer before being shot and arrested was on a terrorism watch list. AFP

As he voluntarily asked for psychological help, he was not arrested and was instead sent to a hospital, which he left soon after.

After the stabbings, the accused was shot and wounded by police officers and taken to hospital, where he will be questioned once his recovery allows.

Officials told The National officers had shot him in the leg and that he had previously served time in prison between 2013 to 2019 for offences of violence.

Belgian authorities kept the overall terrorist threat level at two out of a possible four, meaning the risk of an attack was medium.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo posted a message of condolence to the family and friends of the dead officer.

“Our police officers risk their lives every day to ensure the safety of our citizens,” he said.

“Today’s tragedy demonstrates this once again.

Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said she was in contact with the Brussels mayor, police chief and security services to co-ordinate the response to the attack.

“Such violence against our people is unacceptable,” she said.

“Terrible drama and heartbreaking news. My thoughts are first and foremost with the next of kin, the members of the police zone, and the entire police organisation.”

Authorities faced criticism for not arresting the suspect when he made his initial threats to the police early on Thursday, but Ms Durant said procedures stipulate that he had to be taken by police to a hospital because he had asked for psychological help.

“Police remained there until hospital staff took over,” she said.

A few hours later, when police checked on his whereabouts, it appeared that the person had left the hospital.

Brussels has suffered several attacks in the past decade, including suicide bombings in 2016 that killed 32 people and injured hundreds more in the Brussels and at the airport.

Updated: November 11, 2022, 4:58 PM