The Euro 2024 qualifier match between Belgium and Sweden, held in Brussels, was halted following a shooting incident nearby that claimed the lives of two Swedish citizens. The tragic event took place just hours before kickoff, some 3 miles from King Baudouin Stadium, which hosted over 35,000 fans.
The Belgian authorities, acting with caution due to the suspect’s continued evasion, kept spectators within the stadium for about two and a half hours. As the night wore on, fans inside the venue united in chants of “All together” and “Sweden, Sweden!”
Manu Leroy, CEO of the Belgian soccer union, was informed of the incident shortly before the match began. Prioritizing the safety of attendees, the decision was made to proceed with the match as the stadium was deemed the most secure location at the time.
As investigations unfolded, the federal prosecutor’s office spokesman, Eric Van Duyse, suggested a potential terrorist motivation behind the attack. A claim of responsibility emerged on social media, with the individual allegedly being influenced by the Islamic State and targeting the victims due to their Swedish nationality. No links to the Israeli-Palestinian situation were found.
Ensuring the safety of Swedish supporters was paramount. As midnight approached, fans maintained their composure, chanting in unity. Swedish fans were eventually escorted by police to the airport for their departure.
This unsettling scenario evoked memories of the November 2015 terrorist attack at Stade de France in Paris. UEFA subsequently confirmed the match’s abandonment, citing the suspected terrorist attack in Brussels. On the field, the score stood tied at 1-1, with Romelu Lukaku equalizing after Viktor Gyokeres scored the opener.
In light of the situation, the Swedish FA advised fans to remain calm and prioritize each other’s safety. Reports from Swedish media mentioned some fans being relocated to the stadium’s media room, while others were urged to converse in English and take taxis upon exit.
Both teams, along with officials, endorsed the decision to halt the game. Sweden’s coach, Janne Andersson, expressed his distress, questioning the state of the world.
In response to the attack, Belgium elevated its threat level and advised citizens to limit travel. Similarly, Sweden had raised its terror alert earlier, following threats from Islamic militant groups tied to public Quran-burnings.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo insinuated a terrorist link to the attack. Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden affirmed the ongoing manhunt for the perpetrator and partook in government discussions at the National Crisis Center.