Four shootings in three days: What is happening around Porte de Hal?

Four shootings in three days: What is happening around Porte de Hal?
Police pictured on the scene were a person was shot and killed at the square Jacques Franck - Jacques Franckplein in Saint-Gilles. Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

Four shootings have taken place in the Porte de Hal area over the past few days – with several people injured and one dead. As drug-related violence is escalating, local authorities are calling for stronger measures.

Last night, and for the fourth time since Sunday evening, police were called to a shooting in the south of Brussels' city centre. The Brussels-Capital/Ixelles police confirmed that there were shots fired at a night shop on Avenue du Midi.

"According to initial findings, a car with several people on board drove past a night shop. Shots were fired from the car, but no one was injured," said Willemien Baert, a spokesperson for the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office.

Several bullet casings were found at the scene and one person who was present in the night shop was arrested by the police and questioned. "However, his involvement in the incident is unsure and is currently under investigation."

Four shootings in three days

This means that in three days, four shootings have taken place in the same neighbourhood. The first one on Sunday evening, in Rue Lacaille in the Marolles neighbourhood, leaving two severely injured.

Then on Tuesday at around 14:00, a weapon of war was fired into the air at Jacques Franck Square, a few steps from the Porte de Hal. While the gunshots did not cause any injuries, the perpetrators fled by car and hit a woman during their escape. Later, on Tuesday night at around 01:30, the third shooting followed on the Boulevard du Midi, in which there were no casualties.

In the fourth shooting, which took place around 06:00 on Wednesday morning, again at the Square Jacques Franck in Saint-Gilles, one person died. "The Public Prosecutor was contacted and immediately requisitioned an investigating judge, medical examiner and ballistic expert. They went to the scene this morning, along with the Federal Judicial Police laboratory," said Baert.

Police pictured on the scene where a person was shot and killed at the square Jacques Franck in Saint-Gilles on 14 February 2024. Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

After the shooting early on Wednesday morning, the mayor of Saint-Gilles Jean Spinette raised the alarm over the conflicts between drug dealers within his municipality. "We are dealing with mafia-like organisations" and "drug capitalism," he said on La Première.

While he stressed that the local police force is not standing by idly, they are powerless in the face of criminals who resume their activities as soon as they are released and gangs that "have taken our neighbourhoods hostage" and are waging a merciless battle for a lucrative market – sometimes using "terror tactics," such as when individuals fired weapons of war into the air not far from the Porte de Hal on Tuesday afternoon.

"We are not talking about small-scale neighbourhood dealing, where neighbours come to get their recreational drugs," Spinette stressed. "No, we are talking about activities that bring in a lot of money. Drug seizures are made on a weekly basis, and the amounts are substantial."

He underlined that this issue is not caused by "soft drugs or sympathetic dealers," but by "mafia networks" who are trying to "take over working-class neighbourhoods."

In recent months, the area around Porte de Hal has witnessed increases in public drug use in the area, notably crack, which can be bought for as little as €5-10 on the street.

Feeling of impunity

Although the police regularly apprehend drug dealers – "often without papers, or minors, or both" – these arrests do not seem to have much effect. "Sometimes the Public Prosecutor manages to keep them under arrest, sometimes not. They are released, and it starts all over again."

The mayor is calling for the problem to be tackled from the top. "These networks need to be dismantled," he said. "Carrying out financial investigations, identifying the flows, these kinds of things."

Something must also be done about the "feeling of impunity" that prevails on the ground, Spinette said. To achieve this, sufficient judicial police force is needed, as are "a Public Prosecutor's Office that can prosecute quickly, and a justice system that makes decisions."

"The problem is that today, all these cases drag on," he pointed out, with convictions sometimes only several years after the arrest.

Credit: Belga

In the Brussels Midi zone alone, there are 78 hotspots identified by the police, which are particular points of focus because of drug trafficking. In addition to the Square Jacques Franck in Saint-Gilles, it also includes the Parvis Saint-Antoine in Forest and the Place Lemmens in Cureghem (Anderlecht).

To cope with these problems, Spinette said more financial support is needed for the police zone – as well as bringing in an integrated approach with Justice Minister Paul Van Tigchelt, Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden and the national drugs commissioner Ine Van Wymersch.

The chief of police of the Brussels Midi police zone Jurgen De Landsheer also called for a new approach on Tuesday, saying that he lacks 200 police officers in his force to deal with drug-related problems.

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During a press conference later on Wednesday, Public Prosecutor's spokesperson Willemien Baert underlined that the shootings are all "still very recent" and the investigations are ongoing.

"At the moment, all avenues are still open and it is being investigated whether and how the shootings may be linked," she added. "In any case, it is certain that these are grave incidents that are being taken very seriously by the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office."

The local and federal police forces involved meet and exchange information regularly, also with the Public Prosecutor's Office to coordinate the approach by the various partners as well as possible.

"Following the escalation of violence this week, another meeting will be held soon to ensure a coherent approach to this issue," Baert said, adding that all the authorities involved are treating this issue "as a priority."

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