Belgium parliament eyes gun laws after carnage

15th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Belgium's parliament debates whether to tighten its gun laws Thursday as the nation takes stock of a murderous spree in the city of Liege by a gunman who killed five people before turning a gun on himself.

The latest victim of Tuesday's rampage by ex-convict Nordine Amrani was a 75-year-old women who died in the early hours of Thursday after suffering gunshot wounds.

Armed with grenades and an automatic assault rifle, Amrani killed two teenaged boys and a 17-month-old baby on a square crowded with school-children and lunch-hour Christmas shoppers before shooting himself in the head.

Police also found the body of a cleaning-woman in her 40s lying in a shed he used to stash cannabis and arms. She had been killed earlier Tuesday.

The massacre shocked the nation, with a long queue of people lined up Wednesday to sign a condolence book opened in Liege, the eastern Belgian city of almost a million people.

It is also the first test for the country's new government, sworn in a week to the day before the killings in the wake of the country's longest political crisis, which left Belgium 540 days without a new government following elections last year.

New Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo will detail government proposals before the parliament later Thursday after calls for a tightening of laws on weapons trafficking and an examination of whether to re-examine rules on repeat offenders.

The 33-year-old Amrani, who had a passion for arms, was well known to police before he went on the rampage, with a record dating back to children's courts and charges for drug dealing, petty theft, illegal arms possession, and even a conviction for rape.

In 2007, detectives discovered an arsenal in Amrani's home, finding 9,500 gun parts, including silencers and rifles, as well as 2,800 cannabis plants.

Acquitted on the arms charges, he was sentenced to 48 months in jail for drug offences in 2009 but paroled in October last year.

On leaving jail, Amrani seemed the epitome of the perfect parolee.

He remained regularly in touch with parole officers and a psychologist and appeared to have successfully reintergrated, finding a partner and a home. He was on unemployment benefits and following a metal-workers training scheme.

But on Tuesday, Amrani was armed with an automatic assault rifle, a hand-gun and four grenades and police found nine magazines in his bag.

Belgium's gun laws were drastically tightened after two racially-driven murders in 2006 by a far-right 18-year-old, but new Home Affairs Minister Joelle Milquet this week expressed alarm over an increasing number of weapons available illegally.

Meanwhile an inquiry was continuing into the motive behind the attack but indications from officials and Amrani's lawyers indicated an act of desperation by a former detainee living in fear of being thrown behind bars again.

Orphaned at a young age and largely left to his own devices, he had been summoned by vice police for interrogation at around the time of the massacre but never showed up, the public prosecutor said.

The Belgian press said the summons was linked to a sexual harassment complaint and lawyers along with people he knew said Amrani had been nervous and stressed over the prospect of a new conviction.

© 2011 AFP

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