Belgian authorities: Attack in Liege sure looks like terrorism

When Ed wrote about this story yesterday there was still some uncertainty in the early reports. Did the attacker sneak up on two police-women before murdering them? Did he yell “Allahu akbar” during the attack? Today the Associated Press reports the answer to both questions, according to Belgian authorities, is yes.

Benjamin Herman, an inmate on a two-day prison furlough, attacked two female police officers from behind with a knife on Tuesday, stabbed them repeatedly, stole their handguns and shot them as they lay on the ground, officials said. Crossing the road, he fired several shots at a 22-year old man who was a passenger in a car, killing him. Herman then took a cleaning woman hostage at a nearby school. When police closed in, he ran out onto the sidewalk firing and police fatally shot him. Four officers were wounded.

He yelled “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for God is great, several times during Tuesday’s rampage, prosecutors said. Officials later confirmed that Herman had also killed another person Monday…

Belgian federal magistrate Wenke Roggen said Wednesday that the attack was considered “terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder.” She said it’s being treated as terrorism given the way Herman acted, which she says resembled Islamic State calls via video to attack police with knives and steal their weapons, the fact that he yelled “Allahu Akbar” and was in contact with radicalized people.

Authorities also revealed that Herman killed a fourth person the night before the attack. From CBS News:

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said Wednesday that a man who shot dead two police officers and a bystander in the eastern city of Liege had already killed another person the day before the attack…

“He also committed a murder the night before,” Jambon told broadcaster RTL. Jambon confirmed that the fourth victim 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.

So if this was terrorism inspired by ISIS, the question turns to when and where Herman became radicalized. The NY Times reports authorities believe that may have occurred in prison:

Mr. Herman may have come in contact with extremist inmates, investigators say, and converted to Islam, although no firm connections to a militant terrorist organization that might have helped or encouraged him have been established…

He was not on a terrorism watch list, nor on a list of people suspected of being at risk of radicalization. But he was cited in two reports by Belgium’s civilian intelligence service, and one by the police, on a radicalized individual with whom Mr. Herman had been in contact.

Finally, during the attack he briefly took a woman hostage at a school. She happened to be Muslim and Herman apparently spared her because of this. He also told the woman he kidnapped that he wanted to die a martyr:

When the assailant began shooting through a window looking on the schoolyard, Darifa started screaming, she said. The gunman told her to stop, to think of her Palestinian brothers and Syrian brothers, and to cry for them, she continued.

Unfazed, he then used Darifa as a human shield when the police arrived at the scene.

“I’m here to make people simmer and to be shown by the police,” he told Darifa. “I want to make them boil.”

And then, expressing a wish to die as a “martyr,” he ran outside and into a hail of police gunfire.

So to sum this up, you have a man who had converted to Islam in prison and was in contact with radicals. He attacked police in a way recommended by ISIS. He yelled “Allahu Akbar” during the attack and said he wanted to die a martyr before charging the police. He also appears to have given his kidnapping victim a pass because she was Muslim. Yes, that certainly sounds like Islamic terrorism, even if there were some other factors involved.

Belgium is not raising the terror alert level because this is being judged an isolated case rather than the launch of a coordinated campaign.

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