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Belgium’s justice minister has resigned over his country’s failure to extradite the Tunisian gunman who killed two people earlier this week in an Islamist attack.
Vincent Van Quickenborne said Tunisia had asked for their national to be extradited last year and that he assumed responsibility for the “error with dramatic consequences” in not heeding that call. “I would like to sincerely apologise in the name of the justice authorities to the victims and their loved ones,” the minister said on Friday.
In a video he posted on social media after the attack, the perpetrator, Abdesalem Lassaoued, said he was a member of the jihadist group Isis and boasted about killing three people. Two Swedish football fans died on the spot, while a third victim survived with injuries. Lassaoued was later killed by police who were trying to apprehend him.
Over the past 12 years, Lassaoued had filed for asylum in four different European countries, including Belgium. All those claims were rejected, prompting calls for more stringent deportations of failed asylum seekers, particularly when they are a security risk.
Belgian authorities had previously pointed at Tunisia for not taking back its citizens who did not have a right to stay in Europe. But in the past few days it emerged that Belgian authorities not only failed to act on intelligence that Lassaoued had a radicalised profile, but also Tunisia had asked for him to be extradited from Belgium in August 2022, and Interpol had issued an arrest warrant for his escape from prison in Tunisia.
Lassaoued had been sentenced to more than 26 years in prison in Tunisia in 2005 but escaped in 2011. He later also served prison time in Sweden.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Saturday evening said he accepted the justice minister’s resignation and spoke of an “individual error” committed by the prosecutor in Brussels. “We need to take action based on what we know now,” De Croo said.
According to Van Quickenborne, his ministry forwarded the Tunisian extradition request to the Brussels prosecutor in September 2022, but the responsible magistrate did not act upon it.
Brussels prosecutor Tim de Wolf said his office had received the extradition request but it was not treated, citing the increasingly high workload as one possible reason.
De Croo said the Brussels prosecutor’s office would be reinforced with five additional magistrates and more staff would be hired for the federal judicial police.