Prisoner on release kills two police officers with their own guns in Belgium

Officials say the suspect has since been "neutralised"

Prisoner on release kills two police officers with their own guns in Belgium

Belgian Special Police at the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, 29-05-2018. Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 16:30

Three people have been killed in an apparent terror attack in eastern Belgium.

Officials say the attacker shot dead two female police officers after stealing their weapons in the Belgian city of Liege.

The gunman then murdered a 22-year-old man, who was a passenger in a nearby car.

He went on to take a woman hostage at a local high school.

She was freed after police shot dead the attacker - named by local media as Belgian national Benjamin Herman.

The 36-year-old had been granted afternoon release from prison on Monday - but he failed to return.

He had been serving time for drugs offences, according to media reports and it is thought he may have been radicalised in jail.

Officials say he approached the officers from behind and stabbed them repeatedly before taking their weapons and shooting them.

A police man stands next to a man who holds his head in his hands at the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, 29-05-2018. Image:  Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/Press Association Images

Terrorism

Authorities said terrorism could not be ruled out and media reports said the man shouted "Allahu Akbar" - "God is greatest" in Arabic.

Prosecutor Philippe Dulieu said: "Armed with a knife, the suspect followed and attacked two police officers, and used their own firearms to kill them."

"He continued on foot, attacking a parked vehicle where he opened fire on a 22-year-old man in the passenger seat. The young man died.

"He then continued and entered the Leonie de Waha school. He took a woman working there as hostage.

"Police intervened, he came out firing on the police officers, wounding several before he was killed."

Forensic police investigate at the scene of a shooting in Liege, Belgium, 29-05-2018. Image:  Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/Press Association Images

Hostage

The governor of Liege province, Herve Jamar, said no-one was injured during the high school hostage-taking and all students were safe.

A senior official at the prosecutor's office told reporters "there are indications it could be a terror attack."

Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor's office, said there were "elements that point in the direction that this is a terrorist act."

Interior minister Jan Jambon said the anti-terrorist crisis centre was monitoring the situation which began to unfold at around 8.30am Irish time.

Mr Jambon said: "Our thoughts are with the victims of this horrible act. We are in the process of establishing an overview of exactly what happened."

The crisis centre said a security cordon had been set up around the area and urged people to stay away.

"It (terrorism) is one of the questions on the table, but for the moment all scenarios are open," a spokesman for the crisis centre said.

Attack

Images on social media showed people scurrying for safety on Liege's central boulevard d'Avroy with shots and sirens being heard in the background.

One video showed two police officers in body armour moving into position.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said his thoughts were with the families of the victims after what he called a "serious incident" but added he would not give further details at this stage.

French President Emmanuel Macron voiced "solidarity" with Belgium, condemning it as a "terrible attack."

Threat

Authorities said it was unlikely the terror threat level for Belgium would be raised.

Liege is an industrial city close to the German border in the French-speaking Wallonia region.

It was the scene of a shooting in 2011 when a gunman killed four people and wounded more than 100 before turning the gun on himself.

Belgium has been on high alert since a Brussels-based Islamic State cell was involved in attacks on Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people and Brussels in 2016 in which 32 died.