Hundreds of troops from Belgium, and beyond, have now thoroughly searched a vast area in the country where a fugitive soldier armed with highly dangerous weapons is believed to be hiding. However, no trace of him has been found.
A well-trained sniper from the Belgian army, Jurgen Conings, who has combat experience in several war zones including Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, disappeared on Monday. Having reportedly left life-threatening notes to several top officials, the 46-year-old man is believed to have taken several anti-tank missiles, a submachine gun and a handgun with an ability to pierce bulletproof vests from his unit’s ammunition depot. He himself is believed to be wearing the vest.
Conings is now a “terrorist suspect,” according to Belgian media. The federal prosecutor’s office has been investigating him for “attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons in a terrorist context,” the VRT broadcaster reported. Authorities also believe the suspect has not been “acting on impulse,” but is rather well-prepared.Also on rt.com Belgium deploys military in manhunt for heavily armed ‘far-right’ soldier who decried life under ‘politicians & virologists’
Throughout the week, some 400 Belgian troops, from both the army and the police, have been rigorously searching the Hoge Kempen National Park in the Belgian province of Limburg. Helicopters, armored cars and trucks were deployed for the manhunt, while hundreds searched the nature reserve meter by meter equipped with thermal cameras. Forces from Germany and the Netherlands have been mobilized, as the area where Conings is believed to be hiding borders these countries. Dutch special units are also on standby on their side of the border in case the man tries to cross.
A number of mosques in the Limburg province have closed, local media reported, due to the heavily armed man’s known far-right extremist views.
Police have been listening through phone calls and looking at CCTV camera footage, but Conings “seems to be completely disconnected from the world,” Belgium’s VRT broadcaster reported. His girlfriend appealed to Conings on local television, asking him to “make sure it stops” and not to hurt anyone.
Earlier, a car belonging to the suspect was found. The military man, who had also been training other soldiers for foreign missions, has reportedly booby-trapped his vehicle with four rocket launchers inside. A grenade with a set of wires linking it to the car’s doors are said to have been discovered. There have also been reports that Conings left his service medals on his parents’ grave, with sources suggesting he did it on Tuesday.
Conings’ girlfriend, Gwendy, is reported to be the one who alerted the authorities to her partner’s disappearance on Monday. She reportedly discovered several letters left behind, with local media quoting Conings as writing he “could no longer live in a society where politicians and virologists have taken everything away from us,” so he “would join the resistance and would not surrender.”
The trained soldier also reportedly made threatening notes to the country’s Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder who is now under extra protection, VRT reported. “You trained me to become who I am, I am now going to use that against you,” the fugitive sniper reportedly wrote. He is also said to have threatened Belgium’s chief virologist Marc Van Ranst, now in charge of anti-Covid measures, and has been seen in the vicinity of the official’s home.
“He’s been preparing for his action for days, and it turns out that he was effectively close to his target on Monday night, staying [near Van Ranst’s house] for more than two hours,” Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne said, as quoted by De Morgen.
According to Het Nieuwsblad, claiming to have seen Conings’ letters, he wrote, “I know that I will suddenly be the enemy of the state. They will look for me and find me after a while… I don’t care if I die or not, but then it will be my way.”
As of Saturday morning, no signs of Conings appear to have been found, and local media reported they had been moved further away from the command post. They also said a major column of military vehicles had left the area, with only a small police presence remaining, however it is yet unclear whether search efforts are being relocated.
Meanwhile, the evasive terrorist suspect has been gaining popularity on social media.
Facebook groups with thousands of members openly support Conings, while a petition has been launched on a popular platform to “let Jurgen live.” Belgium’s Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden has criticized such sympathy. “People who make him a hero, or a Rambo character or a movie hero, they are mistaken, I think,” she said in an interview for local television, adding, “That man is indeed dangerous and has very dangerous intentions.”
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