"A monumental error”: the Belgian Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne resigned Friday after learning that Tunisia had requested last year at Belgium the extradition of the author of the attack committed on Monday in Brussels, a request never processed by the prosecution.
This attack, perpetrated by a radicalized 45-year-old Tunisian illegally staying in Belgium, cost the lives of two Swedes, killed with weapons of war when they came to support their national football team in a match against Belgium .
The attack relaunched the debate on the means of Belgian justice and the lack of monitoring of radicalized profiles, even if the author, Abdesalem Lassoued, was not listed by the federal agency responsible for the terrorist threat.
During a press conference, Vincent Van Quickenborne explained that he had learned on Friday morning that Tunisia had requested on August 15, 2022 the extradition of Abdesalem Lassoued, a request not processed by the Brussels prosecutor's office which had received it for two weeks later.
Police officers deployed in the Schaerbeek district where an attack cost the lives of two Swedes, on October 17, 2023 in Brussels © BELGA – JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE
“The competent magistrate did not respond to this request extradition, and the file has not been processed”, underlined the minister.
“It is an individual, monumental error, an unacceptable error, with dramatic consequences”, he said. he added, saying he took “responsibility” by resigning.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he “takes note” of this decision. “Respect for his political courage,” he wrote on the X network (formerly Twitter).
Vincent Van Quickenborne apologized “in the name of Justice” to the victims of the attack and their loved ones.
“This new information, coming from the prosecution, touches my heart, because I did everything possible to improve our justice system”, he further argued.
Monday's attack, which occurred near downtown Brussels two hours before the Belgium-Sweden match counting for Euro-2024 qualifying, targeted Swedish supporters dressed in the national colors, blue and yellow.
The assailant, a former asylum seeker who had been targeted since 2021 by an expulsion order that was never executed, deployed an AR-15 type automatic rifle in the middle of the street and fired at three supporters, killing two of them, before fleeing on a scooter.
– “Common law offences” –
He was located Tuesday morning in a café in the Brussels municipality of Schaerbeek, where he was fatally injured by police shooting.
Members of the scientific police in a street in the Brussels commune of Schaerbeek, after an attack which cost the lives of two Swedes, October 17, 2023 © AFP – JOHN THYS
The attack was claimed Tuesday evening by the Islamic State group, from which Lassoued said he was “inspired” in a video claiming responsibility published on social networks.
Thursday, a man receiving this video before the act was arrested in Nantes, France.
The investigation opened in Belgium is now coupled with investigations in France for criminal terrorist association, in an attempt to uncover possible complicity.
Before claiming asylum in Belgium, where he said he arrived at the end of 2015, Abdesalem Lassoued had filed similar requests in Norway, Sweden then Italy – requests each time rejected.
The The attack sparked strong criticism from the Belgian government over the lack of cooperation from certain countries of origin to take back their nationals rejected from asylum in the EU.
Criticism which is losing its force with this revelation of an extradition request from Tunis targeting Lassoued.
Attack in Brussels © AFP – Olivia BUGAULT, Sabrina BLANCHARD
Friday evening, Mr. Van Quickenborne did not specify for what reasons Tunisia wanted this postponement. On Tuesday, he mentioned one or more convictions “for common law offenses”.
Vincent Van Quickenborne is one of the most high-profile figures in the De Croo government, a coalition in office since October 2020 bringing together liberals, socialists, ecologists and Flemish Christian Democrats.
In September this Flemish liberal, from the same party as the Prime Minister, had to explain at length to Parliament about the celebration of his 50th birthday in August, a party at his home during which three guests were caught urinating on a police van.
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