Belgian prosecutors have revealed that the gunman responsible for the shooting in Brussels last Monday, which resulted in the deaths of two Swedish football fans, had escaped from a prison in Tunisia. Abdesalem Lassoued, who had been sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2005 for crimes including attempted murder, managed to escape in 2011 and illegally arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa. He later moved to Belgium and applied for asylum, but when his application was rejected, he fell off the authorities’ radar.
The Tunisian authorities had requested Belgium to return Lassoued home in August 2022, but Belgian officials failed to process the extradition request. As a result, Lassoued remained in Belgium. The shooting occurred on the evening of October 16 when Lassoued, a 45-year-old man from Tunisia, opened fire on passers-by with an assault rifle in central Brussels. He then pursued individuals into an apartment building, where he killed two Swedish football fans and injured another. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Following a manhunt, Lassoued was located at a cafe near his home in Schaerbeek, northern Brussels, on Tuesday morning and was subsequently shot dead by the police. Belgium’s Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne resigned on Friday, citing a “monumental and unacceptable error with dramatic consequences.” He took political responsibility for the failure to process the extradition request. The Brussels public prosecutor, Tim De Wolf, attributed the oversight to understaffing in his office and stated that the extradition file had likely been forgotten in a file cabinet.
It has been revealed that Lassoued had previously served a two-year prison sentence in Sweden for drug trafficking. The shooting in Brussels has shocked Sweden, with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson laying flowers in Brussels to commemorate the victims. The Swedish Security Service, known as Sapo, is working closely with Belgian authorities in their investigation.
In response to the attack, Belgium has announced additional security measures. The public prosecutor’s office in Brussels, federal judicial police, and railway police will receive extra staff, and the flow of information between the immigration service, police, and judiciary will be strengthened.