The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency has issued a short statement claiming that the assailant who killed three people in Liège, Belgium yesterday was one of the group’s “soldiers.” Amaq’s language is similar to that used in its claims of responsibility after small-scale attacks in the past. The self-declared caliphate’s propaganda arm says the operation was carried out in response to the Islamic State’s calls to attack the nations belonging to the anti-ISIS coalition.
Thus far, Amaq has not provided any other details about the attacker.
Belgian authorities have identified him as Benjamin Herman, a 31-year-old with a criminal rap sheet. Curiously, Herman allegedly committed his crime shortly after being released from prison. Herman was discharged on Monday (May 28), but was apparently set to return to prison. By the following day (May 29), he had reportedly killed four people.
One of Herman’s suspected victims was bludgeoned to death hours after his release. According to the Guardian (UK), this first victim has been identified as Michael Wilmet, a “convicted drug dealer.”
Herman killed two policewomen and a civilian the following day. He first used a knife to assault the police officers, then grabbed one of their guns and shot both of them. Several others were wounded. Herman also allegedly shot a passenger in a nearby car before instigating a brief hostage crisis at a nearby school. He was eventually killed by the police.
According to Reuters, Herman was a “drug dealer who had been in jail for years” and was only supposed to be freed from prison for two days before his “eventual release in 2020.”
Multiple reports say Herman yelled “Allahu Akbar” as he assaulted the policewomen, but little else is publicly known about his potential connections to the jihadist underworld. It is possible that he met jihadists in jail, but it is not clear how Amaq would know that he was acting in the so-called caliphate’s name. Investigators are undoubtedly probing Herman’s network to see if there is more to the Islamic State’s claim, or if it was just opportunistic.
Amaq’s claim does not mention the murder on the night of May 28, nor does it provide any other descriptive information about the two separate attacks.
In the past, Amaq has released videos of individuals or pairs of jihadists swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi prior to their day of terror. This is one way that Amaq has proven the Islamic State’s digital ties, at a minimum, to a string of small-scale plots across Europe. Thus far, Amaq has not produced similar footage for Herman, and may not ever do so.
It will take some time to determine the veracity of the Islamic State’s claim in this case.
Terrorists connected to the Islamic State have struck inside Belgium before. In Mar. 2016, a small cell launched suicide bombings at an international airport in Brussels and a subway station not far from the European Union’s headquarters, killing more than 30 people and wounding many more. The bombers were tied to the same network that carried out the Nov. 2015 assault on Paris.
In May 2014, Mehdi Nemmouche, a fighter who worked in the Islamic State’s jails in Syria, opened fire at a Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people. Authorities later learned that Nemmouche was tied to other Islamic State plotters.