The deadly attack in Belgium sparked fierce debate about the failure of the deportation policy

BRUSSELS (AP) The attacker who allegedly killed two Swedish soccer fans in Brussels this week before being shot dead by police had been residing illegally in Belgium and had been ordered to leave for three years. before.

He never left.

In a country continually rocked by extremist attacks, the government’s failure to deport the 45-year-old Tunisian citizen and prevent him from carrying out the attack is sparking a bitter political debate. harshly.

Many questions remained unanswered when Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson arrived in Brussels on Wednesday to attend a ceremony to remember the victims and meet his Belgian counterpart Alexander De Croo.

How could a man on police records, believed to be radicalized and facing deportation, stay in Belgium? How did he get a semi-automatic rifle and carry out such an attack?

Backed by political opponents who quickly denounced the inadequacies of Belgium’s deportation policy, De Croo emphasized that the order to leave Belgian territory needed to be better enforced.

The order to leave the territory must become more binding than it is now, he said. Those who do not have the right to protection should leave the territory. When we tell you to leave, you need to leave.

De Croo added: “When two people die, the only thing you can say is that everything went wrong.

He also called for better protection of the European Union’s external borders and coordination of return policies across the 27-nation bloc.

Kristersson said he does not blame the Belgian authorities for not returning the suspect to his homeland because we have the same problem in Sweden, with a lot of people being refused asylum but refusing to return home. refuse to leave.

Investigators are still trying to determine the motive for Monday night’s attack, which occurred not far from where the Belgian men’s soccer team hosted Sweden in a European Championship qualifier. It is the latest in a long list of extremist attacks to hit Belgium, including a 2016 suicide bombing that killed 32 people and injured hundreds more in the Brussels metro and airport.

It has since emerged that the attacker has been ordered to leave Belgium in 2021. Authorities believe he acted alone.

According to Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, the suspect was denied asylum in 2020. He was known to police and was suspected of being involved in human trafficking, living illegally in Belgium and posing a threat for national security.

Nicole de Moor, Minister of State for Asylum and Migration, said Belgian authorities lost track of the suspect after his asylum application was rejected because he did not want to be placed in a reception centre. Authorities were unable to locate him to organize his deportation and he was removed from the national register after six months.

However, government critics point out that police were able to quickly find out his address and conduct raids at his Brussels apartment after the attack. Belgian federal prosecutor Frdric Van Leeuw said the video identified the shooter and people helped identify the suspect and track him down.

Bernard Clerfayt, a Brussels minister who is also the mayor of the Brussels district where the murder took place, called on de Moor to resign.

Because, once again, she is demonstrating her incompetence and failing to put in place procedures to resolve the problem, he told La Premiere radio on Wednesday. There are thousands and thousands of orders to leave the country that have yet to be carried out, and what’s more, the procedure has no provision for tracing the addresses of all these people.

Van Leeuw, the prosecutor, said Belgian authorities did not have many signs of the suspect’s radicalization. They received some intelligence from an unidentified foreign government in 2016 that the man had been radicalized, he said, but could not act because Belgian authorities could not prove it. there. They have seen no signs of radicalization since then. Radicalization is also not a crime, he said.

Jesper Tengroth, a spokesman for the Swedish Migration Agency, told Swedish public radio that the suspected gunman lived in Sweden from 2012 to 2014 and spent part of that time in prison before being sent to another EU country.

Official figures show that only 5,497 of the 25,292 people ordered to leave Belgium in 2022 respected it. According to various estimates, there are currently about 150,000 people residing illegally in Belgium.

On average in the European Union, only about a third of those who unsuccessfully apply for asylum actually leave. Despite the attack, Belgium is one of the countries with a better record when it comes to expulsions.

Forced deportations have a dark history in Belgium. In 1998, Samira Adamu, a Nigerian refugee whose asylum application was rejected, was asphyxiated by security officials on a plane returning to Africa after she tried to resist deportation. The then interior minister resigned over the scandal.

Theo Francken, a lawmaker from the right-wing nationalist party N-VA in Flemish, believes that the Belgian government should be stricter with criminals and extremist individuals.

This really must be the focus of the government. He said it was a big mistake not to do this.

The shooter’s use of a semi-automatic rifle highlights another serious problem for Belgium: the widespread circulation of weapons in a country struggling with a fierce drug trade.

Nils Duquet, director of the Flemish Peace Institute and a weapons expert, told VRT News that because of drug crime, there is a huge demand for these types of weapons. “Today it is not only serious criminals who own these types of weapons, but also many smaller criminals.


Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

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