Sweden‘s Euro 2024 qualifier with Belgium was abandoned on Monday night after two Swedish supporters were shot dead in a suspected terrorist attack in Brussels.
The pair, reported to be wearing Sweden shirts, were gunned down in the city before the game.
A video posted online featured a fluorescent-jacketed man claiming a link to Islamic State saying in Arabic that he had carried out a ‘revenge attack’.
In it, he boasted that he had killed ‘infidels’ while earlier in the day he had posted on Facebook referring to the stabbing in the US of a Palestinian boy, by his mother’s landlord.
Amid distressing scenes, UEFA released a statement confirming the cancellation, which happened at half-time during the clash at the King Baudouin Stadium. Swedish fans were asked to stay in the ground for their own safety.
Terrified Belgian and Swedish supporters were locked inside the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels on Monday after two fans were shot dead. The match was abandoned at half time
The shooting took place in Boulevard d’Ypres just a few minutes north of the city’s famous Grand Plaza
Police at the site of a shooting incident in the Boulevard d’Ypres in Brussels
Fans embraced each other during the terrifying moments as Belgian authorities locked them inside the stadium for their own safety
It read: ‘Following a suspected terrorist attack in Brussels this evening, it has been decided, after consultation with the two teams and the local police authorities, that the UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying match between Belgium and Sweden is abandoned. Further communication will be made in due course.’
Local authorities in Brussels are treating the attack as terrorism.
A picture of the man who claimed to have carried out a ‘revenge attack’ was captured in mobile phone footage
‘Due to the incidents in Brussels earlier tonight, play is suspended. Our thoughts are with all those affected,’ a post from the Belgian national team read on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Reports have suggested players from both teams decided during half-time the game should not continue. The score was 1-1 at the time. Viktor Gyokeres gave Sweden a 15th-minute lead, but Romelu Lukaku had Belgium level just after the half-hour.
Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof and Tottenham’s Dejan Kulusevski were also involved.
A post from the Swedish FA read: ‘Message to Swedish supporters on site in Brussels: The Belgian police want Swedish supporters to stay in the arena for security reasons. Take part in information from officials, authorities and SvFF (Swedish Football Association) staff on site.
‘We will return when the Belgian authorities provide us with new information. Keep calm and take care of each other. Our thoughts go out to all the relatives of those affected in Brussels.’
Following the shooting on the Boulevard d’Ypres, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo confirmed the victims were Swedish.
A third fan is seriously injured as the alleged attacked claimed to be a member of ISIS seeking to avenge the killing of a six-year-old US-Palestinian boy
A map shows the location of the killing in Brussels city centre and that of the King Baudouin Stadium in the city’s northwestern suburbs
‘My deepest condolences to the relatives of this cowardly attack in Brussels,’ he wrote on social media.
‘I have just offered my sincere condolences to Swedish PM following tonight’s harrowing attack on Swedish citizens in Brussels.
‘Our thoughts are with the families and friends who lost their loved ones. As close partners the fight against terrorism is a joint one.’
According to police sources, social media accounts linked to the suspect displayed an interest in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories about Sweden. In recent months Qurans have been burned in the country, which has been behind a number of violent protests in response.
The killings occurred three miles away from the stadium, where over 35,000 fans attended to watch the Euro 2024 qualifier.
Brussels was brought to a standstill after the gunman, claiming to be a member of ISIS, opened fire on a group of fans, killing two and seriously injuring a third.
Following the brutal attack, the city’s terror alert has been raised to a level 4 – its highest.
Uncertainty has engulfed the city, including those at the ground, with Belgian and Sweden both asking fans to remain inside
As fearful fans were locked inside the King Baudouin Stadium (left), Belgian authorities raised the terror alert to its highest level in search of the perpetrator, who hasn’t yet been found
Swedish supporters anxiously check their mobile phones in the aftermath of the terror attack
At the other end of the ground Belgium fans look concerned as they look out on the empty field
Players, fans and match officials observed a minute’s silence prior to match at King Baudouin Stadium on Monday
As the terrified spectators waited inside the stadium to hear news from outside, Belgian fans began chanting ‘All together, all together’ to express their solidarity with the Swedish supporters.
Shortly before 12pm local time, RMC Sport revealed that supporters were ‘gradually’ making their way out of the stadium, in accordance with protocol, more than two hours after the match had been called off.
As supporters were evacuated from the stadium, which was entirely secured by Belgian law enforcement, the Swedish players were escorted directly to the airport.
One supporter took to social media to criticise the evacuation’s organisation, revealing it was ‘very difficult’ to leave the stadium amid the chaos.
He said: ‘Very difficult to manage leaving the stadium, contradictory injunctions, very dense flows that intersect, it’s total rubbish.’
Before the mass evacuation, Reims manager Will Still, who was in the stands on Monday night, delivered an update while he was locked inside the ground.
He told RMC: ‘We are still locked in the stadium, with no exit allowed. It’s a bit of a blur for everyone.’
Meanwhile, Sweden head coach Janne Andersson revealed to reporters after the match was suspended that he and his team were determined not to play out of respect for the victims.
‘When I came down for the break, I got this information,’ he said. ‘Immediately, I felt that it was completely unreal. What kind of world do we live in today?
‘I came into the locker room and when the team started talking we agreed 100 percent that we didn’t want to play on out of respect for the victims and their families.’
Manchester United and Sweden defender Lindelof added: ‘Our security team handled it well and put us at ease. They explained that this is the safest place to be in Brussels.’
Belgium had already booked a place at the finals in Germany next year, while Austria’s 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan earlier on Monday meant Sweden could not qualify for Euro 2024.
‘Belgium are already qualified and we don’t have the opportunity to get to the European Championship, so I see no reason to play,’ Lindelof continued.
The match was abandoned at halftime after two Swedes were killed in a shooting in central Brussels before kickoff
A forensic examiner coombs the scene while Belgian police secure the area after a shooting in Brussels
Uproar among Sweden fans during the European Championship qualifying match between Belgium and Sweden
Belgian police officers walk as they secure the area in Boulevard d’Ypres, close to the canal
Former Swedish international Bojan Djordjic, who also played for Manchester United between 1999 and 2005, gave an emotional speech during half time in reaction to the shocking terror attack.
‘There is not only a darkness in Sweden, Europe, the world. I’m holding back tears, we are talking about a game, a game. I love this game, but this life means everything and so much more,’ the television pundit said before the match’s postponement was confirmed.
‘Two of our countrymen killed in cold-blood in the streets of Brussels. And we’re supposed to play for another 45 minutes? The security, it’s about 45 minutes, an hour. Let these fantastic Swedish supporters stay in the arena, keep the police on high alert, and get them safely to their hotels.
‘Do you think a Swedish national player wants to go out and play another 45 minutes with this information? Who do we kid? We suspend games for empty plastic cups thrown. And we’re supposed to play football?
‘I love football, but please, it’s not priority one, two or three right now. We are talking about reality. Honestly, do you guys even want to be on the air right now, to talk about football? It’s a darkness, it’s not only our society it’s everything, it’s all messed up. I’m holding back tears.’
Police cordon off an area where a shooting took place in the center of Brussels
Investigators search the scene left behind by a suspect who is on the run, the Belgian capital’s prosecutor’s office said
This photograph shows the police cordon in place at the sight of the shooting in the Boulevard d’Ypres
Supporters were evacuated from the stadium over two hours after the match was abandoned
Belgian law enforcement surrounded the stadium as the shaken fans made their way home
The shooting came at a time of increased vigilance linked to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war that has heightened tension in several European nations. At the same time, the Belgian capital has been the scene of increased violence linked to increasing international drug trafficking.
Sweden raised its terror alert to the second-highest level in August after a series of public Quran-burnings by an Iraqi refugee living in Sweden resulted in threats from Islamic militant groups.
Speaking in Arabic, he celebrated the slaughter, and said he committed them in the name of ISIS.
Police confirmed that the man in the video – wearing an orange jacket, black scarf, yellow baseball hat and heavy black beard – was the one they were searching for in relation to the attack.