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TERRORIST ATTACK AGAINST SWEDISH NATIONALS IN BRUSSELS, BELGIUM RAISED ITS THREAT LEVEL TO MAXIMUM

(The Situation Update Report [SUR] is a near real-time brief of a possible threat or situation being monitored by The Counter Threat Center. The information is accurate at the time of reporting, but may be subject to change.)


Ludovica Leccese, Sebastien Chapel, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Gabriel Helupka

Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

October 17, 2023


Brussels Map[1]


Current Situation: On October 16, a 45 year-old Tunisian asylum seeking man living in Brussels carried out a terrorist attack. He killed two Swedish nationals and injured a third in the Brussel city center (between Place Sainctelette and Boulevard du Neuvième de Ligne). The shooting occurred before a football (soccer) match between Belgium and Sweden at King Baudouin Stadium. The victims wore Swedish match shirts. The city was put on its highest terror alert as the police started a manhunt. The stadium went under lockdown and the police later escorted Swedish supporters to their hotels and the airport. The man, named Abdessalem Lassoued, declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in two posted videos on Facebook before and after the attack. Swedish nationality was an apparent motivator behind the attack.[2] Since 2016, The suspect was known to the Belgian security services, the State Security Service (VSSE) and the Coordinating Unit for Threat Analysis (OCAM). They were aware of the assailant’s situation due to alleged human trafficking, illegal migration, and breach of state security. Concrete signs of radicalisation were not found. He was thus not added to the list of radicalized and terrorism-related individuals subjected to significant surveillance.[3] Around 700 individuals are currently on this list.[4] On October 17, the Belgian police found and shot the suspect in Schaerbeek (Van Oost Street). He was brought to the hospital and died a short time later.[5]


Intelligence and security services have increased the threat level to its maximum (level four) for the Brussels-Capital region, and to level three for the rest of the country. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo raised security and vigilance around the Swedish centers of interest such as the embassy and IKEA stores.[6]


Swedish Security Police (SÄPO) raised the terror threat level in August from a “substantial” threat to a “high” threat, after increasing threats from Islamist terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, and Hezbollah.[7] The threats came after several Quran burnings in Sweden and a large disinformation campaign against the Swedish Social Service, alleging that the authorities are kidnapping Muslim children from their parents.[8]


Day/Time of event: October 16, 2023/1915 local time


What is the current threat:

  • Security concerns will very likely remain high for the Swedish and Belgian populations. The Belgian threat level will almost certainly vary between three and four, and security forces will be widely deployed in strategic centers and public spaces. The Swedish terror threat level will very likely remain at a four out of five unless a concrete, imminent, threat develops.

  • Swedish citizens, embassies, and industries, such as IKEA, H&M, Volvo, and Ericsson will almost certainly continue to face threats from Islamist terrorist organizations. This attack will very likely increase fears among Swedish citizens abroad. This will likely limit specific characteristics like clothing with Swedish colors, and speaking the Swedish language in public areas.

  • The situation in Sweden with Quran burnings, the stabbing of Palestinian tenants in the US, and the Israel-Hamas war very likely triggered the alleged terrorist. The videos found on his social media accounts that make consistent references to these events very likely indicate that he was driven to seek revenge. The geopolitical context will likely continue spilling over into Europe and pose a security threat to European cities. This will very likely result in terrorist threat level rising in spill over countries.

  • The attack will likely increase the risk of inciting an escalation of violence between different ideological groups. It will likely increase Islamophobic and anti-Semitic sentiments against different religious communities in Brussels and other European cities. A cycle of retaliation attacks will almost certainly continue between perceived adversaries. Extremist attacks targeting Jewish, Muslim, and Swedish communities will almost certainly have ripple effects, likely increasing the frequency and intensity of violent attacks and threats. These will likely occur during pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinians demonstrations.

  • The attack will very likely increase debates in Sweden about banning Quran burnings, with the opposition likely demanding the government speed up the legal process. Sentiments for far-right parties and organizations in Sweden will very likely increase as a response to the attack. Politicians from the Sweden Democrats and Alternative from Sweden will likely take advantage of the event for political gain.

  • The attack will very likely increase debates about asylum seekers and illegal immigration in Belgium. Far-right parties such as Vlaams Belang (VB) will very likely use the attack as a trigger. They will likely use it to advance their political interests and raise Islamophobic and anti-immigration sentiments. VB will very likely do this throughout their social media platforms, likely as the next Federal elections in 2024 approach.

  • The event will very likely incite other Islamist terrorist groups and affiliated lone-wolf individuals to take action across Europe. The Quran-burning events in Sweden, coupled with the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, will likely foster sympathy for these causes. This will likely increase radicalization and the execution of terrorist attacks. European states will almost certainly keep a high security alert, especially around Israeli, Palestinian, and Swedish centers.


Who will it directly impact:

  • Belgian government

  • Belgian police forces

  • Belgian population

  • Swedish government

  • Swedish embassies and consulates

  • Swedish population

  • Swedish shops and stores

  • Swedish football team


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[1] Ludovica Leccese via Google Maps

[2] CTG Threat Hunter via Facebook

[3] Alexander De Croo from X, via CyberHUMINT

[4] Rapport Annuel 2022, Organe de Coordination pour l’Analyse de la Menace (OCAM), https://ocam.belgium.be/publication/rapport-dactivites-2022/

[5] CrisisCenter Belgium from X, via CyberHUMINT

[6] Alexander De Croo, from X, via CyberHUMINT

[8] THREATS AGAINST SWEDEN, SWEDISH INTERESTS, AND MINORITY GROUPS AFTER QURAN BURNINGS, by Gabriel Helupka, Jennifer Radlinsky, Martina Sclaverano, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Pike Wipperfurth

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