Belgium-Sweden Euro qualifier abandoned after shooting in Brussels

Thousands of soccer fans were kept inside Belgium's national stadium for about 2½ hours Monday after a game between Belgium and Sweden was abandoned at halftime because a gunman fatally shot two Swedish people in Brussels before kickoff.

The European Championship qualifier was being played some 3 miles from the shooting in the center of the Belgian capital, and more than 35,000 fans attended the match. With the suspect then still at large and reportedly targeting Swedes, Belgian authorities kept fans inside the venue for security reasons before starting the evacuation around midnight local time.

Belgian police on Tuesday shot dead a 45-year-old Tunisian man accused of the killings. The unidentified man, a suspected extremist, was shot as police tried to arrest him. He later died in a hospital. A military weapon and a bag of clothes were found on the man, who allegedly posted a video online claiming to have killed Swedish people and saying he was "ready to sacrifice himself" for the Quran.

"The perpetrator of the terrorist attack in Brussels has been identified and died," interior minister Annelies Verlinden posted Tuesday on social media.

"Last night, three people left for what was supposed to be a wonderful soccer party. Two of them lost their lives in a brutal terrorist attack," Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said at a news conference just before dawn. "Their lives were cut short in full flight, cut down by extreme brutality."

De Croo said his thoughts were with the victims' families and that he had sent his condolences to Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson. Security has been beefed up in the capital, particularly around places linked to the Swedish community in the city.

"The attack that was launched yesterday was committed with total cowardice," De Croo said.

Kristersson said "everything indicates this is a terrorist attack against Sweden and Swedish citizens, just because they are Swedish." He said the suspect had occasionally stayed in Sweden but was not on police files there.

De Croo said the assailant was a Tunisian man living illegally in Belgium who used a military weapon to kill the two Swedes and shoot a third, who is being treated for "severe injuries."

Fans chanted "All together" inside the King Baudouin Stadium after Monday's match was halted, with thousands of supporters from both sides also shouting "Sweden!"

Manu Leroy, the CEO of the Belgian soccer union, said he discovered 10 minutes before kickoff that "something serious" had happened in downtown Brussels.

"It was decided in the first place that the match should go ahead because the stadium was the safest place to be at the time, so that the fans could stay here and be safe," he said.

Fans remained patient well into the night and were still chanting as midnight approached. Leroy said the Swedish fans were last to leave the stadium "because the police will escort the Swedish fans and players, who will obviously go straight to the airport and leave."

Sweden players returned to their clubs Tuesday after the overnight flight home from Brussels. Sweden captain Victor Lindelof said Monday that the players never felt in any danger.

"Our security team handled it well and put us at ease," Lindelof said. "They explained that this is the safest place to be in Brussels."

The last of the Swedish supporters -- totaling about 650, according to the Swedish Football Association -- left the stadium under police surveillance at around 4 a.m. local time, along with some staff from the federation. All hotels where Swedish supporters were staying were also guarded by police, the federation said.

The sight of fans locked inside a major European stadium was reminiscent of the scenes at the Stade de France outside Paris when France's national stadium came under assault from Islamic State extremists during a match between France and Germany on Nov. 13, 2015.

It remained unclear whether the match, which was tied 1-1 at halftime, would be completed at a later date. European soccer governing body UEFA said Tuesday it was too early to make any decision and that "further communication will be made in due course."

Belgium and Austria have qualified from Group F for the tournament to be held in Germany next year, but both teams can still win the group. Sweden can finish no higher than third in the group and cannot reach the European Championship.

"Belgium are already qualified and we don't have the opportunity to get to the European Championship, so I see no reason to play," Lindelof said Monday.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this story.