The large-scale search for the fugitive Belgian military officer Jurgen Conings has still failed. 250 agents and 150 soldiers return to the Hoge Kempen National Park, supported by the DOVO military service, which specialises in the evacuation of explosives.
Earlier today, a search was set up in a suburb of Leuven, near the house of the underground virologist Marc Van Ranst. The police have scoured the area, but found nothing. The neighborhood is safe, reports the police, who emphasizes that it was a preventive action.
The 46-year-old soldier has been wanted since Tuesday. The Afghanistan-veteran wrote in a farewell letter “to resist” against the government and well-known virologists, such as Van Ranst. Also, he would “not surrender without a blow or punch”. His car was found in a nature reserve on the border with Limburg. In there were four rocket launchers and ammunition. The police assume the military is armed.
Justice in Belgium assumes that Conings has been entrenched in the vast nature reserve. The prosecutor‘s office has “a lot of clues” for this. The 12,000 hectares nature reserve is therefore closed for pedestrians and cyclists. If you enter the area, you risk a fine of 200 euros.
Help from Dutch police, highway closed
The police carry out sweeping actions in the nature reserve, delimiting parts and then combing meter by meter. In addition, the Belgian police receive support from colleagues from the Netherlands and Germany, who also guard the border with Belgium in case Conings tries to flee the country, reports the VRT.
The Rural Unity in the Netherlands says it is “alert”, but does not make any statements about the Dutch commitment in the surroundings of the Belgian nature reserve.
In Dutch Limburg, the police junction Kerensheide, near Geleen, set off in the direction of the Belgian border to limit traffic in the nature reserve. Traffic to Belgium is diverted via Maastricht and Liège. It’s unclear how long the closure will last.
District Attorney Wenke Roggen says gunshots were fired in the nature reserve yesterday. Because of who and why they shot, she couldn‘t say. Local residents say gunshots were heard this morning, but the Attories couldn’t confirm that.
Yesterday, the Belgian police distributed this photo of Conings:
Police warns that citizens should not approach Conings themselves, but inform the police immediately. The military man is about 1,80 meters long, bald and has multiple tattoos. He was wearing a dark Timberland T-shirt when he left his house Tuesday.
Concerness in schools
The Interest of Limburg reports that dozens of primary school children in the region have remained at home today. “We have already had several worried parents on the phone,” says a school director to the newspaper. The gate around his school building was therefore closed when all the children were inside.
No additional security measures are being taken for the time being, says the governor of Belgian-Limburg to press agency Belga. However, several mosques in the area remain closed as a precaution. In Maasmechelen, Islamic places of worship are additionally guarded. It‘s unclear whether the mosques are a concrete target of Conings.
Minister under fire
The Belgian Minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder, who has also been given extra security himself, is criticized as a result of the Conings case. The military was known to the Belgian counter-terrorism services as “potentially violent extremist with far-right ideas”, but was able to undisturbed with heavy weapons from a barracks for a shooting practice.
In a Chamber debate today, the Minister said that more stringent action will be taken against military who express themselves racist, sexist or fascist. For example, stricter penalties will be imposed or such soldiers will be dismissed.
A parliamentarian from the Social Democratic Party Vooruit reminded Dedonder that there have been concerns about extremist soldiers for a long time. “When I asked you about it recently, you said: ‘There‘s not much we can do about it’. That is madness!”
Belgian Prime Minister De Croo warned in the debate that repression is not the only solution to radicalisation in society. “The key is an inclusive society in which everyone counts. We are not divided by situations like this.”