Manhunt launched in Belgium for heavily armed soldier

Manhunt is launched in Belgium for extreme right soldier armed with a rocket launcher and machine gun who threatened top Covid expert

  • Hunt for Jurgen Conings has entered its second day focusing on Limburg
  • He is said to be armed with a rocket launcher, a machine gun and a pistol
  • Questions raised over how he could be on terror watch list and a serving soldier 
  • Minister describes him as ‘acute threat’ known for his extreme right sympathies
  • Once threatened Marc Van Ranst a top virologist working to contain coronavirus
  • Van Ranst and his family have been moved to safe location until suspect is found 

Police identified the man as Corporal Jurgen Conings ,46, who disappeared on Tuesday, leaving a note saying he would not be taken alive

A manhunt is underway for a heavily armed professional soldier whose extreme right sympathies landed him on the Belgian terror watch list.

Police identified the man as Corporal Jurgen Conings, 46, who disappeared on Tuesday, leaving a note saying he would not be taken alive.

Local media reported that Conings is armed with a rocket launcher, a machine gun and a pistol, allegedly stolen from of of his barracks. He is also thought to be wearing a bulletproof vest. 

The search for the soldier, who threatened several people including a top virologist, entered its second day on Wednesday, focusing on the Limburg province. 

Questions have been raised as to how someone on a terror watch list could be allowed to serve in the military.

‘The real question is of course: how is this possible?’ asked Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, adding Conings had been on the radar of the Co-ordination Unit for Threat Analysis, which assesses terror threats.

‘Someone who has already made threats in the past – that this man within defence has access to weapons and can even take those weapons with him,’ Mr De Croo said.

‘It is unacceptable.’

Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne described Conings as an ‘acute threat,’ adding that he is known for his extreme right sympathies. 

Van Quickenborne told Flemish TV: ‘He is violent and in the course of the past 24 hours evidence has emerged the man poses an acute threat’. 

The search for the soldier, who threatened several people including a top virologist, entered its second day on Wednesday, focusing on the Limburg province 

Questions are now being raised about how Conings could be allowed to continue serving in the army while being listed as a potentially violent extremist by the military intelligence service

Local media reported that Conings is armed with a rocket launcher, a machine gun and a pistol, allegedly stolen from his barracks. He is also thought to be wearing a bulletproof vest [Stock image]

Earlier this month, Conings threatened several people, including Marc Van Ranst, one of the best-known virologists working on containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a Twitter message early on Wednesday, Van Ranst said that ‘being against COVID measures and COVID vaccines all too often coincides with aggression of violence and raw racism. 

‘Let one thing be clear: such threats do not make the slightest impression on me,’ he added.

Van Ranst and his family have been taken to a safe place until Conings is caught.

Authorities were centering their search efforts in the northeastern part of Belgium in Limburg province after beginning the hunt for Conings in Leopoldsburg.

‘That person has apparently moved around,’ Erik Cenens of the police told Radio 2 on Tuesday, before Conings was identified.

‘[He was] first in the Beringen region and then further north towards Pelt, the Netherlands and Maasland. We are trying to locate the man as exactly as possible to be able to arrest him.’

Video showed police officers taping off a street in Limburg on Tuesday night. 

On Tuesday night, police were searching the Dilserbos forest in Limburg, close to the Dutch border, after a car belonging to Conings was spotted with heavy weapons inside. 

‘Four missile launchers and ammunition were found in it,’ Belgian federal prosecutor Wenke Roggen said. 

The case has been taken over by the federal prosecutor because of the risk of a terror offence being committed, The Brussels Times reported. 

Dutch news outlet De Morgen said that Conings wrote a letter saying he was going to ‘join the resistance and may not survive’. 

A letter has been found in which he says he will not be taken alive,’ it reported a source as saying.

Der Morgen said that Conings is a 46-year-old who drives a grey Audi Q5. It is not clear if this was the car found near the Dilserbos forest.

Der Morgan said Conings’ Facebook profile mentions the Siegrune, the symbol used by the SS during World War II.  

Questions are now being raised about how Conings could be allowed to continue serving in the army while being listed as a potentially violent extremist by the military intelligence service. 

Police officers were filmed cordoning off a street in Limburg on Tuesday night as the manhunt continued

Authorities were centering their search efforts in the northeastern part of Belgium in Limburg province after beginning the hunt for the man in Leopoldsburg

A potentially violent extremist is categorised as being ‘a person with extremist views who has an intention to use violence, but has not yet taken concrete steps to do so.’ 

Such a categorisation should have prevented Conings from handling weapons, even in the army, according to The Brussels Times.

The outlet reported that authorities will carry out an investigation into how he was able to obtain the heavy weaponry from the barracks.  

De Croo insisted that the defence forces and the security services come up with a proposal as soon as Thursday ‘to prevent such a thing from ever happening again’ 

A spokesman for ACMP, a military union told De Morgen: ‘Belonging to a certain organisation or having a certain conviction is not punishable a priori.

‘You can adhere to an extreme right-wing ideology, but it is only when you commit criminal offences or compromise the name and reputation of the army by making certain statements that you expose yourself to prosecution under military law or criminal law,’ Yves Huwart told the paper.

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