A car has slammed at high speed into carnival revelers in a small village in southern Belgium, killing six people and leaving 10 with life-threatening injuries.
Authorities have ruled out, for now, a terror motive behind Sunday’s incident.
“At this stage of the investigation, we know that a vehicle slammed into a group and that there are six dead and 26 injured, including 10 people whose life is in danger,” prosecutor Damien Verheyen told reporters at the town’s city hall.
The tragedy took place around 5am (04:00 GMT) as the carnival of Strepy-Bracquegnies, a village west of the former coal-mining town of La Louviere, was getting under way.
The main suspects, born in 1988 and 1990, were arrested at the scene, Verheyen said, adding that the two were not known to authorities for similar acts.
In an age-old tradition, carnival revelers had gathered at dawn, intending to pick up others at their homes along the way, to finally hold their famous festivity again after it was banned for the past two years to counter the spread of COVID-19.
It was supposed to be a day of deliverance but instead, said La Louviere Mayor Jacques Gobert, “What happened turned it into a national catastrophe.”
Belgian towns and villages host many street carnivals around the Catholic Church’s season of Lent, with the parades in Binche and Aalst the best known internationally.
Gobert said there were 150 to 200 people participating in the carnival’s pre-dawn prologue and when they reached a road, “a car coming from behind at high speed literally pulverised a large number of people”.
Fabrice Collingnon, a Belgian TV presenter, told AFP news agency the procession was joyfully under way when, in a “snap of the fingers we went from fun and folklore to absolute horror”.
He added that the car seemed to “deliberately enter into the pack”.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo deplored the “horrible news” on Twitter, saying “a community gathering to celebrate has been hit in the heart”.