An 11-year-old girl was killed Monday in a shooting suspected to be linked to the booming illegal drug trade in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, officials said.
Local police told national news agency Belga the child was killed by shrapnel, after bullets fired by attackers into a house in the Merksem area caused a microwave to explode.
‘Horrible tragedy where an innocent child has died. The investigation is ongoing, but we will do everything we can to apprehend these ruthless criminals,’ tweeted Belgium’s interior minister Annelies Verlinden.
‘Children have nothing to do with any drug war.’
A spokesman for the Antwerp prosecutor’s office said links to the drug trade were being ‘investigated’.
But the city’s mayor Bart De Wever told VRT television the home targeted in the shooting belonged to a family known to be involved in the drug trade and that the attack appeared to be a ‘settling of scores’.
‘A drug war is underway, criminals attack the houses of other criminals,’ he said.
‘We have been witnessing this for months and what I feared for a long time has happened, there has been an innocent victim, a child.’
The news of the killing comes as Belgian authorities are set to announce on Tuesday a new annual record for cocaine seizures at the port of Antwerp, expected to total over 100 tonnes.
The ports in Antwerp and nearby Rotterdam in the Netherlands are the two main gateways for cocaine dispatched from Latin America to enter Europe, often hidden in consignments of fruit.
With the drug trade comes increasing violence. Prosecutors in Antwerp say that over the past five years they have recorded more than 200 violent incidents linked to the drug smuggling.
These include threats of violence, assaults, and even explosives thrown at homes.
Authorities estimate they stop only around 10 per cent of the volume of the illegal drug smuggled through Antwerp, despite deploying sniffer dogs and container scanners.
So much cocaine has been intercepted that law enforcement officials worry they do not have enough incinerator capacity to destroy it.