Police say there is a ‘robust’ policing plan in place for England’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy tonight at Wembley – after two Swedish football fans were shot dead by a gunman in Brussels on Monday.
Football fans have been assured that there will be a ‘highly visible’ presence at the stadium for the match, which kicks off at 7.45, following the tragic events on the continent on Monday night.
The Sweden-Belgium qualifier was called off after two Swedish fans were shot dead by suspect Abdesalem Lassoued, 45, who rode around Brussels on a motorised scooter openly carrying an assault rifle before being cornered by police.
A statement issued by the Met Police ahead of tonight’s game, which kicks off at 7.45pm, reads: ‘Given the events yesterday in Brussels, those attending the match can be reassured that they will see a highly visible policing presence.
‘Officers are there to ensure the event passes off safely and provide reassurance to those attending.’
Officers from the Metropolitan Police at the England v Australia international friendly at Wembley last week. The Met says fans should expect a robust presence tonight
The Met has urged fans to ‘arrive in good time for the match and remain vigilant throughout’ following the tragic events in Brussels (pictured: Met officers at last week’s England-Australia friendly at Wembley)
Video shows Abdesalem Lassoued dressed in a fluorescent orange jacket and carrying a gun driving through the streets of Brussels last night
Many Sweden fans at King Baudouin Stadium were tearful and clung to each other for support, while others checked their mobile phones for the latest information
Belgium fans could be seen hugging inside the King Baudouin stadium as news emerged of the tragedy unfolding outside. The match was called off in a mutual agreement between both sides after learning of the news at half-time
Superintendent Gerry Parker, match commander for tonight’s game, said: ‘We have been working with our partners, including the FA, in the weeks leading up to this match to ensure those attending the Wembley area enjoy this match.
‘Our officers are experienced in dealing with large-scale public order events, and a flexible plan is in place to reduce the likelihood of crime and disorder, and provide a timely response to any emerging incidents.
‘Please ensure you arrive in good time for the match and remain vigilant throughout; if you see anything suspicious then flag it an officer or one of the match stewards immediately so the necessary action can be taken.’
The King Baudouin stadium in Brussels was locked down on Monday after reports emerged of Lassoued, a reported ISIS fanatic, riding around the city on a moped armed with a rifle.
The 45year-old opened fire on a group of Swedish football fans in a taxi last night as they passed through Boulevard d’Ypres at around 7pm, a short distance north of the city’s famous Grand Plaza ahead of Belgium’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Sweden.
Several people fled into an apartment building after hearing the gunshots, but Lassoued followed them and opened fire again in the entrance hall in an attack he said was to avenge the killing of a six-year-old US-Palestinian boy.
Wadea Al-Fayoume, six, was allegedly stabbed to death by Illinois landlord Joseph Czuba on Saturday in an attack that left his mother Hanaan Shahin seriously wounded. Czuba appeared in court on Monday on murder charges.
Following the incident the alleged attacker used the name ‘Slayem Slouma’ to boast about the two murders on Facebook, adding he sought to avenge the killing of a six-year-old US-Palestinian boy.
Speaking in Arabic in the video, Lassoued celebrated the slaughter, and said he ‘was inspired by the Islamic State’ terror group, prosecutors said.
According to a media transcript of the video message recorded by the self-declared perpetrator, he said:
‘Islamic greeting Allahu Akbar. My name is Abdesalem Al Guilani and I am a fighter for Allah. I am from the Islamic State. We love who loves us and we hate who hates us. We live for our religion and we die for our religion. Alhamdulah. Your brother took revenge in the name of Muslims. I have killed three Swedes so far Al hamdoulelah. Three Swedish, yes. Those to whom I have done something wrong, may they forgive me. And I forgive everyone. Salam Aleykoum.’
Heartbreaking images showed Belgian and Swedish footballers hugging as they remained inside the stadium until sometime after midnight on Tuesday morning, when they were finally given the go-ahead to leave.
Police secured the area around the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels on Monday night as fans were set to be evacuated
Forensic police officers gather in the street in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels where suspected gunman Abdesalem Lassoued was shot dead on Tuesday
Flowers are left at the scene of one of Lassoued’s attacks in Brussels on Monday night
Amid the distressing scenes, UEFA issued a statement confirming that the match had been postponed at half-time. Sweden fans were told to stay inside the stadium for their own safety.
Players from both teams, who heard the news during the break, concluded that the game should be suspended; at the time of the decision, the match was tied on 1-1.
After the game, Sweden coach Janne Andersson confirmed they were told about the incident at half-time.
He said: ‘Everyone was very sad and all the players agreed not to continue with the match.’
Manchester United and Sweden defender Victor Lindelof added: ‘We discussed the remainder of the match with the team and the Belgians.
‘The conclusion was not to play anymore. The most important thing is that the supporters are safe now.’
Armed police cornered Lassoued, a reported ISIS fanatic, inside a café in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood at 8am on Tuesday and shot him him in the chest.
Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden later confirmed Lassoued had been shot and killed by police during his arrest today.
‘The perpetrator of the terrorist attack in Brussels has been identified and has died,’ Verlinden said.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo earlier said the suspect was of Tunisian origin who had been living in the country illegally before launching what he called a brutal terrorist attack.
de Croo told a news conference on Tuesday: ‘The terrorist attack that happened yesterday was committed with total cowardice, the attacker chose as a target two Swedish football fans.
‘Terrorism strikes indiscriminately. It aims to sow fear, mistrust and division in our free societies. Terrorists must know that they will never achieve their goals.
‘They will never make us bend. Their hatred and violence only prove their powerlessness.’
Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborn said the failed asylum-seeker had been convicted of ‘common law offences’ in Tunisia, but denied he was listed as a known terrorist threat.
Prosecutors said the attacker in his video had indicated the Swedish nationality of his victims was a motivation, and there appeared to be no links with the emotion triggered by the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.