Justice Minister Koen Geens said the assailant, who was later killed by police, was released from prison on a two-day leave Monday. Geens described him as a multiple repeat offender who had been incarcerated since 2003.
Liege Police Chief Christian Beaupere said at a news conference that the slain officers were 45-years-old and 53-years-old, the latter the mother of twins. Four other officers were wounded in the attack, one of them seriously with a severed femoral artery.
State broadcaster RTBF identified the suspect as Benjamin Herman. Herman, a Belgian national born in 1982, had a criminal record that included theft, assault and drug offenses, RTBF reported.
The federal prosecutor’s office declined to comment.
Earlier, Liege prosecutors’ spokesman Philippe Dulieu said the man crept up on the two officers from behind carrying a knife and stabbed them several times.
“He then took their weapons. He used the weapons on the officers, who died,” Dulieu told reporters. The two police handguns had a total of 17 bullets.
Dulieu said the attacker then shot dead a 22-year-old man in a vehicle that was just leaving a parking place outside a nearby high school. The attacker then took a woman hostage inside the school.
“Liege police intervened. He came out firing at police, wounding a number of them, notably in the legs. He was shot dead,” the spokesman said.
A senior official at the federal prosecutor’s office told The Associated Press that “there are indications it could be a terror attack.”
Despite this, Belgium’s crisis center said it saw no reason to raise the country’s terror threat alert for now.
When asked about the report that the attack was terror-related, Liege city hall Michel Firket spokesman told the AP: “I know nothing formal about that. The police is doing its investigation. There are no formal conclusions.”
A spokeswoman for the city mayor’s office, Laurence Comminette, told the AP that the children at the school were all safe.
Belgium’s King Philippe, Prime Minister Charles Michel and the country’s justice and interior ministers traveled to Liege to confer with local officials.
“I want to offer my government’s support for the victims, for the victims’ families,” Michel said.
Yves Stevens of Belgium’s federal crisis center said that security in Liege is under control, and that there was no reason yet to raise the national terror threat level.
“There is absolutely no confirmation yet that the incident is terror-related,” Stevens told the AP.
Video posted on Twitter by a person claiming to be a witness showed people running in the area. About six gunshots could be heard.
Belgian police and military have been on alert since suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and subway system in 2016.
It’s not the first time Liege has been hit by a similarly violent attack. In December 2011, a man with a history of weapons and drug offenses left home with hand grenades and guns before he lobbed the grenades into a square filled with Christmas shoppers and fired on those who escaped. Five were killed, including the assailant.