BRUSSELS, Aug 26, (Agencies): Belgian soldiers shot dead a man in the centre of Brussels on Friday evening after he came at them with a knife shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great), in a case authorities are treating as a terrorist attack.
The man, a 30-year-old Belgian of Somali origin, died after being rushed to hospital. The soldiers were not seriously hurt in the attack; one had a facial wound and the other’s hand was wounded.
Prosecutors said the man, who was not known for terrorist activities, had twice shouted Allahu Akbar during the attack, which occurred at around 8:15 pm local time (1815 GMT) just outside the city’s central pedestrian zone while the soldiers were on patrol.
The case passed from local to federal prosecutors, who typically handle terrorist cases. A spokeswoman for the prosecution service said they were treating the case as one of attempted terrorist murder.
Brussels mayor Philip Close said the alert status, already just one off the maximum level, had not been increased.
“Initial indications are … that it is an isolated attack, a single person,” Close told reporters beside a street blocked by police.
Soldiers routinely patrol the streets of the Belgian capital due to a heightened security alert level after Islamist shooting and bomb attacks in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016.
In June, troops shot dead a suspected suicide bomber at Brussels’ central train station. There were no other casualties. Authorities treated the incident as an attempted terrorist attack.
Tens of thousands of Spaniards and foreigners were to stage a defiant march against terror through Barcelona on Saturday following last week’s deadly vehicle rampages.
Red, yellow and white flowers — the colours of Barcelona — were distributed to protesters and the slogan for the march will be “no tinc por” — Catalan for “Not afraid”.
The Mediterranean city is in mourning after a van ploughed into crowds on Las Ramblas boulevard on Aug 17, followed hours later by a car attack in the seaside town of Cambrils.
Fifteen were killed in the carnage and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called on Spaniards to turn out in force to show their “love” and solidarity with Catalonia, where the rampages took place.
King Felipe VI was also attend the march, becoming the first Spanish sovereign to take part in a demonstration since the monarchy was re-established in 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
Europe has been shaken by a spate of deadly Islamist violence with an increasing number of low-tech attacks using vehicles or knives — sometimes both — as weapons.
The Spanish premier said Friday the king would be attending the march to demonstrate “his love for the people of Barcelona, of Cambrils, of Catalonia.
“There, with all of Catalan society and all of Spain… we will once again give a clear message of unity and condemnation of terrorism, and of love for the city of Barcelona,” he added.
The warm comments contrast with Rajoy’s earlier criticism of Catalan leaders, with whom he has been at loggerheads over their plans to hold an independence referendum on October 1.
But in the aftermath of the attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group, he and Catalonia’s separatist president Carles Puigdemont made a show of unity. Both will attend the march, which begins at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT).
Already on Friday evening, thousands of people marched against terror in Cambrils, shouting “no tinc por”, — as Catalans shouted last week, immediately after the attacks.
Those who tended to the victims last week will be given pride of place at the top of the procession.
They include security forces, emergency workers, residents and shop owners in the Las Ramblas avenue and taxis who took people for free.
People like Montse Rovira, the 53-year old city hall’s head of social emergencies, will also march at the head of the procession. Her service helped people who were lost or who couldn’t find their loved ones.
It is perhaps “only a matter of time” before Rome is hit by a Barcelona-style attack but security forces are ready in case the Vatican is targeted, the head the Swiss Guard has said.
Security has been stepped up at religious sites throughout Italy, including at the Vatican, since last year, when a truck driven by a suspected Islamist militant killed 86 people in the French city of Nice.
Barriers and police and army vehicles have been placed around St Peter’s Basilica to make it harder for a vehicle to gather speed in an attack such as the one last week in Barcelona, which killed 13 people.
Despite threats from Islamic State, Rome and other Italian cities have so far been spared the kind of vehicle attacks that have also hit Nice, London, and Berlin.
Finnish police have released three of the seven suspects held following a stabbing spree that killed two people last week, they said in a statement Saturday.
But four men are still in custody after last week’s attack in the southwestern city of Turku, which investigators are treating as the country’s first terror attack.
They include the main suspect in the attack, which took place on Aug 18, a man police initially identified as Abderrahman Mechkah, an 18-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker.
Police say he deliberately targeted women in the attack, in a market square in the port city.
But officials have not responded to media reports that the authorities had refused the man asylum.
Reports in the Finnish media also say that while the man has acknowledged making the attacks, he said he had not intended to kill anyone and denied any terror motive.
Two of the men released were a Moroccan national and an Algerian detained on Wednesday.