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'Radicalized' Belgian convict kills 3 before being shot dead


May 29. 2018 11:46PM
A police officer is seen on the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

LIEGE, Belgium — A man killed two policewomen and a bystander in the Belgian city of Liege on Tuesday before being gunned down at a school in what officials said was a terrorist attack by a radicalized “lone wolf” just out of prison.

The man was named by Belgian media as Benjamin Herman, a 36-year-old drug dealer and thief who was let out on a two-day pass on Monday. Police suspect him also of the murder of a former associate found dead at his home early on Tuesday.

A Belgian lawmaker said he figured on a watchlist of people suspected of being in contact with Islamist radicals in jail — raising questions about why he was freed unsupervised.

Officials said the man attacked the policewomen, aged 45 and 53, from behind with a knife — described as a box-cutter by local media — around 10:30 a.m. on a boulevard in the center of Belgium’s third city, near the German border.

After slashing the officers, the man seized their handguns and shot both.

He shot dead a 22-year-old trainee teacher who was sitting in a car before entering a high school about 100 yards away and taking two female employees hostage.

That triggered a major intervention by armed police. Pupils were moved to safety as a gunbattle broke out that sent people in the street racing for cover.

Four officers were wounded before the attacker was finally killed on the sidewalk.

“The goal of the assassin was to target the police,” Liege police chief Christian Beaupere told a news conference.

The attacker’s profile revealed concerns about the risks of petty criminals, including those not from Muslim backgrounds, being inspired to Islamist violence while incarcerated.

Convicts have been behind several recent attacks in Europe, including some using little more weaponry than a knife or rental truck.

The national crisis center, on high alert since attacks by Islamic State in Paris and Brussels over the past three years, said it had not raised its alert level — an indication the man was acting alone and so follow-up attacks were not expected.

A police source told Reuters that Herman shouted “Allahu Akbar” — God is greatest in Arabic — during the incident.

A Koran and prayer rug were found during a search of his cell, local media said. The justice minister said Herman had been freed for two days to prepare for his eventual release in 2020.

He had caused no problem on previous furloughs.

Confirming that the attacker was on a police watchlist, lawmaker George Dallemagne, who sits on several Belgian parliamentary security committees, tweeted: “The supervision of radicalized prisoners remains tragically flawed.”

Prime Minister Charles Michel said, however, that Herman had not figured directly on the main national register of threats.

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