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Islamic State claims Belgium machete attack on two policewomen

Assailant had a criminal record but was not known for terrrorism, police said
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, left, and Charleroi's mayor Paul Magnette arrive on Sunday at hospital Notre-Dame in Charleroi, where wounded policewomen are being treated (AFP)

A machete-wielding man who wounded two policewomen in Belgium was a 33-year-old Algerian, prosecutors said on Sunday as the Islamic State (IS) group, behind a string of deadly attacks in Europe, claimed the assault.

Quoting an unidentified source, IS-linked Amaq Agency said the attack by one of the group's "soldiers" came "in response to calls to target citizens" belonging to countries in a US-led coalition bombing the militants in Syria and Iraq.

The assailant died on Saturday after being shot by a third policewoman.

Belgian prosecutors said on Sunday that the man, whose initials were given as KB, was already known to police.

He had "a criminal record but was not known for terrorism," they said, adding that he had been living in Belgium since 2012.

Ahead of the IS claim, Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters that an investigation was underway "for attempted terrorist murder," hard on the heels of a meeting of Belgium's security services.

Michel saluted the courage of the police officers and repeated indications from investigators on Saturday that the attacker had shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) during the assault in front of a police station.

In a statement, prosecutors said two searches had been carried out in the neighbourhood where the attack happened. 

Saturday afternoon's attack outside the main police station in the city of Charleroi, around 60 kilometres south of Brussels, left one of the policewomen with "deep wounds to the face" while her colleague was slightly injured, Belga news agency said.

Charleroi police confirmed the attacker was killed and that the two injured policewomen were out of danger, though both were placed in an induced coma.

Police spokesman David Quinaux told broadcaster RTL-TVI the assailant had "taken a machete out of a sports bag he was carrying and dealt very violent blows to the faces of the two policewomen".

Belgium has been on high alert since suicide bombers struck Brussels airport and a metro station near the European Union's institutions on 22 March, killing 32 people.

Those attacks were claimed by IS, which controls large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria and has claimed numerous terror strikes in Europe over the last year.

'Cool heads'

Belgium's unit for terror threat analysis coordination said it would keep the alert level unchanged at level three on a scale of four, meaning an attack is viewed as "possible and likely".

With regard to attacks specifically on police, the unit maintained a level two threat, requiring "particular vigilance".

Michel meanwhile praised "the exceptional courage of the policewomen who suffered this serious attack" and "did what they had to and doubtless thereby prevented an even greater tragedy."

"We maintain cool heads and blood," added the premier, who said unspecified measures would be taken to bolster security for police, while noting that Belgium was confronting a similar threat to that faced by its European neighbours.

Belgian police have undertaken waves of anti-terrorist raids over recent months going back to last November's deadly attacks in Paris, which were found to have been prepared on Belgian soil and perpetrated, among others, by Belgian-based militants.

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