BRUSSELS (AP) — A lone attacker smashed his car through the gates of an army barracks in southern Belgium and fled in the vehicle after shots were fired, Belgium's defense minister said Monday. The attack did not involve guns or explosives.
Defense Minister Steven Vandeput said the intruder's motive remained unclear but insisted "it is certainly an aggression targeting the barracks."
Police detained a suspect three hours after the attack following a manhunt which also involved helicopters, said prosecutor's spokesman Vincent Macq. He said no motives could be excluded but that evidence did not immediately point to an attempted terror attack.
Since a gunman killed four people in the May 2014 attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels, Belgium has been on higher alert for further extremist attacks. Police killed two men and arrested a third in January in a counter-terrorism raid in the eastern city of Verviers.
Monday's incident didn't have the hallmarks of a dangerous and meticulously prepared attack. The suspect was using his own car, and carried no gun or explosives. "The only potential weapon he had was his car," said Macq.
He described the suspect as a local in his thirties and said he tried to hide with other locals around the base when he fled.
"It was more a man on the run than a threatening man," Macq said. "It is someone who was not on any of our radical lists, he his unknown by our security services, and I want to add that for the moment nothing can let us say that we are facing a terror lead."
The hit occurred near the French-speaking town of Namur, south of Brussels. The suburb of Flawinne is the site of one of Belgium's major military barracks, home to the 2nd Commando Battalion.
Because of the higher alert, the military immediately "fired some 10 warning shots," said Vandeput.
Afterward, security personnel immediately swarmed the area.
"Within the next 30 minutes it was a madness. Military going all over the place, police vans, special operation task forces, and at around 11 a.m. the bomb squad arrived, and we were asked not to stay around," said Fabienne Botilde, who lives near the entrance to the barracks.
There were no reports of serious injuries at the barracks. A busted-up Ford was found close by and was carefully investigated by police.
Belgium has been one of the largest recruiting bases per capita for foreign fighters traveling to join the Islamic State extremist organization, and authorities have openly expressed alarm about what the recruits might do if they return.
A preliminary report this month from a U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries estimated 500 people have been recruited from Belgium to fight in Iraq and Syria.
John-Thor Dahlburg, Virginia Mayo and Sylvain Plazy contributed.