The man who killed four people in the Belgian city of Liege this week carried out an act of “terrorist murder” and may have intended to cause more carnage, prosecutors said.
Authorities are trying to establish whether Benjamin Herman, an inmate on a two-day release from prison, acted alone.
Herman attacked two female police officers from behind with a knife, stabbing them repeatedly, before stealing their handguns and shooting them as they lay on the ground.
Crossing the road, he fired several shots at a 22-year old man who was a passenger in a car, killing him. Herman then took a cleaning woman hostage at a nearby school.
When police closed in, he ran out onto the pavement, firing more shots, before police fatally shot him. Four officers were wounded.
He cried: “Allahu akbar”, the Arabic phrase for “God is great”, several times during Tuesday’s rampage, prosecutors said. Officials later confirmed that Herman had also killed another person on Monday.
The police officers have been identified as Soraya Belkacemi, 44, and Lucile Garcia, 54. The passenger in the car was named as Cyril Vangriecken, 22, who was preparing to become a primary school teacher.
Belgian federal magistrate Wenke Roggen said the attack was considered “terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder”. She said it is being treated as terrorism given the way Herman acted, which she says resembled Islamic State calls to attack police with knives and steal their weapons. Added to this was the fact that he yelled “Allahu Akbar” and was in contact with radicalised people.
The attack started outside a Liege cafe and Ms Roggen said the attacker went in and out of it a few times after shooting the officers, but people inside had fled or hidden, thanks to the quick thinking of the owner.
Prosecutors said Herman has had several run-ins with police since he was a minor. He has been sentenced on assault, drug and insubordination charges. He left prison early on Monday on furlough and should have returned on Tuesday evening.
Interior minister Jan Jambon told broadcaster RTL Herman “also committed a murder the night before”.
Mr Jambon said the fourth victim, named in reports as Michael Wilmet, was a former inmate who did prison time with Herman. Herman is alleged to have killed the man on Monday evening by hitting him over the head with a blunt object.
He added that the woman he took hostage, Imaankaf Darifa, may have talked the shooter down and helped to avoid more deaths inside the school.
The minister, Prime Minister Charles Michel and Belgium’s King Philippe visited the woman in hospital, where she was being treated for shock.
“She was very courageous and perhaps, but this we will have to verify, she helped avoid more victims in the school,” Mr Jambon said.
Ms Darifa told the Associated Press she tried to keep the gunman away from the children at the school.
She said: “I told him: ‘you are in a school here, you cannot come in a school, it is not right what you are doing’.”
The hostage added that when police ignored her request at the behest of Herman to leave, he threw his identity card out. Then, Ms Darifa said, “he walked out, and I left. Then there was the guns and they killed him”.