Belgium mourned on Sunday after a car ploughed into a crowd of early morning carnival-goers, killing six people and injuring dozens of others, but the authorities ruled out an act of terrorism.
The tragedy took place around 5am as the carnival of Strepy-Bracquegnies, a district in the former coal-mining town of La Louviere, was getting under way.
“At this stage of the investigation, we know that a vehicle slammed into a group (of carnival-goers) and that there are six dead and 26 injured, including 10 people whose life is in danger,” prosecutor Damien Verheyen told reporters at the town’s city hall.
Investigators said the suspects were born in 1988 and 1990 and came from La Louviere, a town near the French border in Belgium’s rust belt. They were not known to the authorities for similar acts.
Chief prosecutor Christian Henry said the two were coming from a nightclub “and had just dropped off another person just before the events. Blood test results were expected on Monday and “will allow us to say if they have consumed drugs”, he told RTBF news.
“Nothing goes in the direction of radicalism or extremism,” he said. The facts have been qualified as murder but we will see what the investigation will reveal and if we should requalify the thing as manslaughter,” he added.
La Louviere mayor Jacques Gobert said there were 150 to 200 people participating in the carnival’s pre-dawn prologue, including the “Gilles” in their garb.
Fabrice Collignon, a Belgian TV presenter, told AFP the procession was under way when in a “snap of the fingers we went from fun and folklore to absolute horror.
The car seemed to “deliberately crashed into the crowd”, said Collignon. Another witness, Theo, told RTBF news he saw a car that moved “very fast and didn’t break”.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and other ministers rushed to the scene along with Belgium’s King Philippe, who met first responders in the Strepy-Bracquegnies sports hall, where the morning’s carnival procession began.
“It should have been a day of celebration after a difficult time. It turned into a day of mourning,” De Croo told reporters, noting that the carnival was the first after two years of cancellations because of the coronavirus pandemic
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