Lone-wolf terror attack, an insane act of opportunity, or both? A gunman killed three people in Liege, Belgium this morning, including the two police officers the suspect disarmed first to start his spree. Benjamin Herman had been stopped for an ID check by the two police officers before Herman took the weapons:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 29, 2018
Local broadcaster RTBF reported the attacker opened fire at the Cafe des Augustins and then moved on to a nearby college, where he took a female cleaner hostage. No students were injured.
The Liege Prosecutor’s Office declined to say if the incident was terror related, but anti-terror police were summoned to the scene.
Two police sources told ABC News the assailant was named Benjamin Herman, a Belgian national known to police as someone who was radicalized in prison.
Herman was stopped by authorities for a regular ID check, refused to produce one and grabbed a police gun before the attack, authorities said. He also was carrying a small knife.
Don’t forget that first details out of breaking-news incidents are often incorrect. As explained by the police, however, it doesn’t sound like a planned terror attack, but more like an opportunity seized by Herman. On the other hand, the Daily Mail has more information on Herman that might indicate that he sought out the confrontation:
Two police officers and a civilian have been shot dead by a man reportedly shouting Allahu Akbar, which led to a hostage situation at a high school in Liege, east Belgium.
The attacker, who is understood to have been released from prison yesterday, approached two police officers from behind and stabbed them several times with a knife at around 10.30am local time.
Belgian prosecutors say he then disarmed the officers and used their own guns to kill them, before shooting dead a 22-year-old man in a nearby vehicle.
The “Allahu akbar” detail comes from only one source, a local online publication, although it has been repeated a number of times. Police have told media outlets that Herman was radicalized in prison and known to them, so it’s not out of the question, but it raises questions about the motive for the attack. If he wanted to conduct a terror attack in Liege, why start with the police, and why not acquire firearms first?
The difference in the telling of the sequence of events makes it even tougher to know the motive. The Daily Mail’s telling has Herman sneaking up on police, which would make sense for a planned attack, where other media reports have the police saying that the two officers stopped Herman and initiated the incident. Either way, a known bad guy who might have only been out of prison one day managed to wreak a lot of havoc in Liege.