Expert calls for humane detention after Liège shootings

On Tuesday, Benjamin Herman, a converted criminal, killed three people in Liège. He turned out to be a prisoner on leave. Amidst the outrage, professor Kristel Beyens pleads for not eliminating penitential permissions.

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
Expert calls for humane detention after Liège shootings - NewsMavens
Classmates of killed 22-year old student Cyril Vangriecken take part in a tribute ceremony for the vicitms of a shooting in Liege on May 30, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel DUNAND

Why this story matters:

Again, Belgium is in shock after the cowardly murder of two police officers and a young student. The man who killed them is also suspected of having committed another murder in Luxembourg province on Monday night.

Several elements indicate a terrorist attack, and federal prosecutors have confirmed the direction of the investigation. It appears that killer Benjamin Herman became radicalized in the Lantin prison.

He committed his deadly raid during a penitential leave.

He was allowed to leave prison 13 times before, and nothing had happened on these occasions.

However, now the public and several politicians are criticizing such leaves for prisoners. Recently, a Belgian nurse was killed by another inmate on a penitential leave. 'Releasing this man was a huge mistake', the father of the victim says. 

Professor Kristel Beyens of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel warns against overreacting. In a measured opinion piece for 'De Standaard,' she explains that the system of penitential leaves is the best path to successful reintegration. 'The number of failures is quite small', she insists.

If emotions stay high, we risk a tightening of the law against the will of experts in the field of detention.

Mission: to kill as many police officers as possible

  • On Tuesday Morning two police officers and a young man were killed by a man named Benjamin Herman in the center of Liège. One day before, he is suspected to have killed another man in the province of Luxembourg. Herman was on leave from prison when he committed the murders and screamed 'Allahu Akbar' during the shootings.
  • The two police officers, Soraya and Lucile, were a 45-year-old mother of twins and a 53-year-old woman with an adult son. The man that was shot in a car was a 22-year-old student, Cyril, who would have graduated this month.
  • There are indications that Herman -- a converted Muslims since 2012 -- became radicalized last year in prison. At a press conference Wednesday morning federal prosecutors stressed that all possibilities were being investigated including a link with IS. They noted that a quick intervention by the Liège police had averted a bloodbath.
  • A search of Herman's jail cell at Marche-en-Famenne prison yielded no results. In the past, he was involved with drugs. The post-mortem exam will show if the killer was on drugs during the shootings.
  • Benjamin Herman had a long history of run-ins with the law. He would have been released in 2020. P enitential leaves were preparations for his reintegration in civil society, as in most cases.
  • 'Permitting a penitential leave is always a risk', the Minister of Justice Koen Geens (CD&V) said on Tuesday. Some want him to resign.
  • The Greens and Jan Jambon (N-VA), Minister of Interior Affairs, plead for calm. 'Let's wait the results of the investigation.' But several politicians  -- liberals, right and extreme-right -- as well as civilians want a change in the system.
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