A lone attacker tried to smash his car through the gates of an army barracks in southern Belgium and fled in the vehicle after shots were fired, Belgium’s defence minister said yesterday.
Defence minister Steven Vandeput said the intruder’s motive was unclear but added “it is certainly an aggression targeting the barracks”.
Police detained a suspect three hours after the attack following a hunt which also involved helicopters, said prosecutor’s spokesman Vincent Macq.
Since a gunman killed four people in a May 2014 attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, Belgium has been on heightened alert for further extremist attacks. Police killed two men and arrested a third in January in a counter-terrorism raid in the eastern city of Verviers.
Yesterday’s incident occurred near the French-speaking town of Namur, south of Brussels. The suburb of Flawinne is the site of one of Belgium’s major military barracks, home to the 2nd Commando Battalion.
Because of the higher alert level, the military immediately “fired some ten warning shots,” said Mr Vandeput.
Afterward, security personnel immediately swarmed the area.
“Within the next 30 minutes it was madness. Military [were] going all over the place, police vans, special operation task forces, and at around 11am the bomb squad arrived, and we were asked not to stay around,” said Fabienne Botilde, who lives near the entrance to the barracks.
Police cordoned off the area from 9:40am until 10:30am and a video posted on Twitter showed officers apparently outside a supermarket.
“No-one was hurt, it seems,” a spokesman for prosecutors in Namur was reported as saying yesterday, following the incident. “If I look at it from an outsider’s point of view, it seems incomprehensible,” he said. “Why would you attack a military barracks?
“There are plenty of weapons there to strike back.”
The vehicle’s owner was said to have been identified after the car, thought to be a Ford, was found in Belgrade, near Flawinne. Bomb squad officials were on the scene after witnesses told Belgian media that the man was apparently carrying something heavy in a case.
There were no reports of serious injuries at the barracks.
Belgium has been one of the largest recruiting bases per head of population a for foreign fighters travelling to join the Islamic State extremist organisation in northern Iraq and Syria, and authorities have openly expressed alarm about what the recruits might do if they return.
The Flawinne barracks is home to a commando battalion of 650 soldiers who take part in Nato operations and peacekeeping missions.