, Brussels, Belgium, Aug 7 – A machete-wielding man who wounded two Belgian policewomen was a 33-year-old Algerian who was living illegally in the country, officials said Sunday as the Islamic State group, behind a string of deadly attacks in Europe, claimed the assault.
The IS-linked Amaq Agency said one of the group’s “soldiers” carried out the attack “in response to calls to target citizens” of countries which have joined a US-led coalition bombing the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
The assailant died on Saturday after being shot by a third policewoman.
Belgian prosecutors said on Sunday that the man, whose initials were given as K.B. “had a criminal record but was not known for terrorism”.
He had been living in Belgium since 2012, they said.
The junior minister for migration, Theo Francken, said K.B. had been living illegally in Belgium and had “twice been ordered to leave the country”.
Francken — a Flemish nationalist in Belgium’s fragile coalition government — said he would float proposals for accelerating “the forced return of illegal residents”.
Ahead of the IS claim, Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters that an investigation was underway “for attempted terrorist murder”.
Michel, speaking after a meeting of Belgium’s security services, repeated investigators’ earlier findings that the attacker had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) during the assault.
The bloody incident took place outside a police station in Charleroi, 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Brussels, where the officers were on guard.
Police spokesman David Quinaux told broadcaster RTL-TVI the assailant had “taken a machete out of a sports bag he was carrying and dealt very violent blows to the faces of the two policewomen.”
Local police said the two injured policewomen were out of danger, though both were placed in an induced coma.
“They were seriously injured in the face and neck,” the federal prosecutor’s office said.
In a statement, prosecutors said two searches had been made in the neighbourhood where the attack happened.
Belgium has been on high alert since suicide bombers struck Brussels airport and a metro station near the European Union headquarters on March 22, killing 32 people.
Those attacks were claimed by IS, which controls large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria and has claimed numerous terror strikes in Europe over the last year.
– ‘Cool heads’ –
Belgium’s unit for terror threat analysis coordination said it would keep the alert level unchanged at level three on a scale of four, meaning an attack is viewed as “possible and likely”.
With regard to attacks specifically on police the unit maintained a level two threat requiring “particular vigilance”.
Michel praised “the exceptional courage of the policewomen who suffered this serious attack” and “did what they had to and doubtless thereby prevented an even greater tragedy.”
Belgians were keeping “cool heads”, added the premier, who said measures would be taken to bolster security for police.
Belgian police have carried out waves of anti-terrorist raids since last November’s coordinated attacks on Paris, which left 130 people dead.
Those attacks were found to have been prepared on Belgian soil and perpetrated, among others, by Belgian-based jihadis.