Belgium Justice Minister Resigns Over ‘Monumental Error’ That Saw Illegal Migrant Who Killed Two Evade Extradition
James Callery et al., Daily Mail, October 20, 2023
Belgium’s justice minister resigned today over what he described as a ‘monumental error’ after it was discovered that Tunisia was seeking the extradition last year of an Islamic extremist who shot dead two Swedes and wounded a third this week.
Vincent Van Quickenborne said he and his services had been searching for details to understand how Abdesalem Lassoued had disappeared off the map two years ago after being denied asylum and ordered by Belgian authorities to be deported to Tunisia.
On Monday night, Lassoued gunned down two Swedish men and wounded a third with a semi-automatic rifle in Brussels. The attack forced the lockdown of more than 35,000 people in a football stadium where they had gathered to watch Belgium play Sweden.
In a video posted online he claimed to have been inspired by the so-called Islamic State group. Police shot him dead on Tuesday morning in a cafe in the Belgian capital.
Van Quickenborne told reporters on Friday evening: ‘This morning at nine o’clock, I remarked the following elements: on August 15 2022, there was an extradition demand by Tunisia for this man.
‘This demand was transmitted on September 1, as it should have been, by the justice expert at the Brussels prosecutor’s office. The magistrate in charge did not follow up on this extradition demand and the dossier was not acted upon.’
‘It’s an individual error. A monumental error. An unacceptable error. An error with dramatic consequences,’ Van Quickenborne said as he announced he had submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.
The premier said he took note of Van Quickenborne’s resignation and offered ‘respect for his courage’. The prime minister called a meeting of senior ministers and senior security officials for Saturday to shed more light on the failure.
Lassoued had applied for asylum in Belgium in November 2019. He was known to police and had been suspected of involvement of human trafficking, living illegally in Belgium and of being a risk to state security.
Information provided to Belgian authorities by an unidentified foreign government suggested he had been radicalised and intended to travel abroad to fight in a holy war, but officials were not able to establish this, so he was never listed as dangerous.
Official documents showed he had lodged asylum applications in Norway, Sweden, Italy and Belgium. He had stayed in Belgium illegally after his bid for asylum was rejected in 2020.
Lassoued was ordered to be extradited in 2021, but the authorities did not do so because they could not find an address for him. After Monday night’s shooting, the place where he was living was found within hours.
Belgian prosecutors said nothing suggests Monday’s attack was linked to what is happening in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
It has been detailed that Lassoued targeted the two Swedes in their 60s and 70s because of the burning of the Koran which took place in Stockholm in recent months.
Abdesalem Lassoued, the mother of the suspected terrorist, told Tunisian television channel Hannibal that her son had mentioned the Koran burnings in Sweden in phone calls.
It is alleged he also spoke about carrying out ‘jihad’ and asked his father if he wanted his son to die as a martyr, according to Sveriges Radio.
They reported that Abdesalem said her son was ‘never the same’ after the Koran burnings and that she and her husband were ‘shocked and sad’ about what happened.
The terror suspect’s wife ‘Yasmina’, not her real name, fled with her daughter on Monday out of fear her husband would come home, taking refuge with the police and telling them all she could – before they shot down the Tunisian national on Tuesday morning.
An ambulance was later seen taking a wounded Lassoued to hospital, while the scooter he is said to have used to flee the terror attack was towed away.
The semi-automatic rifle that Lassoued had used to kill the two Swedish football fans was also found on his person.
Lassoued opened fire on a group of Swedish football fans in a taxi as they passed through Boulevard d’Ypres just a few minutes north of the city’s famous Grand Plaza ahead of Belgium’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Sweden.
Several people fled into an apartment building after hearing the gunshots, but Lassoued followed them and opened fire again in the entrance hall in an attack he said was to avenge the killing of a six-year-old US-Palestinian boy.
Disturbing video shows the attacker on a motorbike stalking people and shooting them, with other images circulating online showing the body of one person inside a taxi.
Dramatic video later appeared to show the gunman, who was dressed in a fluorescent orange jacket, fleeing on a motorbike while being tailed by a member of the public.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo earlier said ‘the terrorist attack’ was ‘committed with total cowardice, the attacker chose as a target two Swedish football fans,’ adding that a third person – a taxi driver – was seriously wounded.
‘Terrorism strikes indiscriminately,’ he said. ‘It aims to sow fear, mistrust and division in our free societies. Terrorists must know that they will never achieve their goals.
‘They will never make us bend. Their hatred and violence only prove their powerlessness.’
Sweden expressed its devastation over the shooting and European leaders were quick to offer their solidarity.
In response to the attack, Belgian authorities raised the terror alert for Brussels to level four or ‘very serious’ – the highest – and level three nationally.
Van Quickenborne said Lassoued, an asylum seeker, was convicted in Tunisia ‘for common law offences’, but was not reported as a terrorist risk.
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.
In August, the Scandinavian country raised its terrorist alert to the second highest level, warning of an increase in threats against Swedish interests also abroad, after Koran burnings and other acts in Sweden against Islam’s holiest text outraged Muslims and triggered threats from jihadists.
The Swedish government has condemned the burnings and is considering amending laws that could stop them but critics say such moves need to preserve far-reaching freedom of speech.