Belgian killer known criminal, but no record of instability
Nordine Amrani, the lone-wolf gunman who died after killing four people including a baby in a crowded Belgian square Tuesday, had a long criminal record but not one of mental instability.
The 33-year-old Amrani was well known to police before he went on the rampage in the eastern Belgian city of Liege, opening fire on families shopping for Christmas and youths leaving end-of-year school exams, also wounding more than 100 others before his own demise.
He had previously been convicted for drug dealing and illegal arms possession, as well as for holding stolen goods and other crimes, said Daniele Reynders, the public prosecutor for Liege.
All told, he had racked up around 20 brushes with Belgian law enforcement, an official source told AFP.
In September 2008 he was thrown behind bars for 58 months when police uncovered a weapons arsenal in his home.
They foung 10 firearms and 9,500 gun parts along with 2,800 cannabis plants, but a prison official said Amrani was granted parole in October last year.
A weapons aficionado, he was said to be able to dismantle, repair and put together all sorts of weapons but was never linked to any terrorist act or network.
Sources told AFP that the prison service, a national terror threat-assessment agency and the interior ministry had each been aware of his record.
However Reynders, who will face Belgian and international media at a 9:00 am (0800 GMT) press conference, said there had never been the slightest hint that Amrani was unbalanced.
"At no moment in any of the judicial proceedings against him was there a sign of unbalance," she said Tuesday.
Amrani had been summoned by police in the morning but never showed up.
Instead he left his Liege home in the morning with his backpack and arms, a light automatic rifle, a hand-gun and several grenades.
He headed for the city's central Saint-Lambert square, crammed with children and Christmas shoppers, and set up his gear on the roof of a popular bakery chain, Le Point Chaud.
With a bird's eye view of the square, he hurled three grenades into the crowd, the prosecutor said, before opening fire.
How exactly he died was not immediately clear, with discrepancies between witness claims he turned his revolver on himself and others suggesting one of his grenades appeared to explode prematurely.
"The inquiry will determine whether he acted deliberately or whether the equipment he was carrying caused his death," Reynders said.
Some initial reports said the shooting, around noon on Saint-Lambert square, home to the courthouse and located near the busy Christmas market in the town of 196,000 people, was a foiled bid to rescue a suspect from the courthouse.
But an official with Belgium's national crisis centre said any link with ongoing judicial investigations had been ruled out.
The gunman's van was found on the square.
© 2011 AFP