Benjamin Herman, the man who gunned down two police officers and a passer-by in Liege on Tuesday, was on temporary leave from prison at the time of the attack, prison authorities have revealed. Herman attacked the two officers with a knife, taking their service weapons and shooting them dead. He then shot dead a 22-year-old man who happened to be in the area, before taking a woman hostage. She was released unharmed, but Herman himself was later shot dead by police.
Federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon revealed that the prosecutor is now convinced Herman killed another man prior to the attack in Liege.
According to federal justice minister Koen Geens, Herman had been on penitential leave 25 times, serving a 12-year sentence for a variety of offences, without a problem to date. Sud-Presse newspapers, however, report that not only was he days late for a return to prison in February 2016, he actually escaped from Lantin prison in 2016 and remained at large for a year. Nevertheless, he was next granted leave in October of the same year. He was due for release in October 2020.
Geens appeared troubled by the circumstances at a press conference given on Wednesday. “Above all, I feel responsible because I am responsible for the prisons,” he said. “Should this man have been let out on penitential leave? That’s a difficult question, and one that will require me to look into my conscience.”
His government colleague Jan Jambon, meanwhile, confirmed that Herman is now the prime suspect in the murder of a man in Luxembourg province on Monday evening, this time using a hammer.
Meanwhile, police services across Belgium paid tribute to their fallen colleagues. Messages on Twitter came in from the federal police as well as police services in Charleroi, Antwerp and Brussels. The chief of police in Liege, Christian Beaupère, said, “We have not sufficient words to express our emotion.” The two officers killed were Soraya Belkacemi and Lucile Garcia. Officer Belkacemi was the mother of twins aged 13, who had already lost their father. Officer Garcia had a grown son aged 25.
And tributes came in from politicians both in Belgium and elsewhere. King Philippe and prime minister Charles Michel visited Liege. British prime minister Teresa May, Dutch minister-president Mark Rutte and French president Emmanuele Macron all sent messages of condolence to the families of the victims. “”The French people stand in solidarity with the Belgian people in the face on this terrible attack,” Macron said.