Brussels police stabbing was 'terrorist attack': prosecutors

Police and army personnel stand guard during a bomb alert outside the Brussels-North (Gare du Nord - Noordstation) train station in Brussels, on October 5, 2016 (AFP Photo/Thierry Roge) (BELGA/AFP/File)

Brussels (AFP) - Belgian prosecutors charged a suspect with attempted murder Thursday over the stabbing of two police officers in a "terrorist attack" in Brussels, the latest such incident in a city still reeling from deadly bombings in March.

The suspect in Wednesday's attack, named as 43-year-old Hicham Diop has been "charged with attempted murder in a terrorist context and participation in the activities of a terrorist group," a statement from the prosecutor's office said.

His brother, Aboubaker D, had also been taken into custody "in the framework of the terrorist attack against two police officers" in Brussels, it said. The brother was born in 1970 and both men have Belgian nationality.

"The investigating judge, specialising in terrorism, will decide tomorrow on the possible extension of his detention," the statement added.

Police shot the attacker in the leg after he used a knife to attack the two officers, one female and one male, in the Schaerbeek area of the Belgian capital before breaking the nose of a third officer.

The first two officers, who suffered wounds to the stomach and neck, have been released from hospital, local mayor Bernard Clerfayt.

Media reports said the attacker was a former soldier who had served until 2009 and who had ties to jihadists who had gone to fight in Syria.

Further information investigators have unearthed on Hicham Diop includes that he stood in regional elections in 2004 for the pro-Islamist Party of Citizenship and Prosperity (PCP).

It is alleged that the kick-boxing fan was approached some years ago by radical Muslims at the now closed Muslim Centre in Molenbeek, founded by French-Syrian sheikh Bassam Ayachi and which became a recruitment hub for radicals.

Broadcaster RTL quoted Hicham Diop as explaining the motive behind the attack as "revenge on the police" for a 2011 incident which he says saw a police vehicle run him over.

His attempts to take legal action proved fruitless and left him "shocked," he said, according to RTL.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon meanwhile told parliament that intelligence services had exchanged classified information on him on September 19.

According to the mayor of Schaerbeek, this information did not reach local police.

Jambon indicated he had called for an explanation into the apparent lack of communication.

Previous attacks in Brussels and in Paris have shown up a similar lack of coordination between Belgian authorities.

Wednesday's incident came shortly after one of the main train stations in Brussels and the city's prosecutor's office were shut by a bomb scare which later turned out to be a false alarm.

The stabbing comes two months after two policewomen were wounded in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi by a machete-wielding man who shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).

Belgium remains on its second highest terror alert level following the March 22 Islamic State suicide bombings targeting the Brussels metro and airport in which 32 people were killed.