Belgium's lone wolf gunman felt 'harassed' by police

14th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The lone wolf Belgian gunman who went on a murderous spree in the city of Liege, killing four people before turning a gun on himself, had a lengthy criminal record and lived in fear of returning to jail.

As the shocked nation sought to understand the motive behind the carnage by 33-year-old Nordine Amrani, tearful residents of Liege turned out to lay wreaths on the city's central Saint Lambert Square Wednesday, scene of the attack the previous day.

"It's awful just being here, having to take the bus, after what happened," said a woman on the square.

The square was packed with children just out of school and lunch-hour Christmas shoppers when Amrani lobbed grenades at bus shelters and turned an assault rifle on the crowd.

A 15-year-old boy died instantly while a baby of 23 months and a 17-year-old boy succumbed to injuries in hospital.

Police earlier Wednesday also discovered the body of a cleaning-woman of around 40 in a shed used by Amrani to stash cannabis plants and illegal weapons.

"Nordine Amrani committed suicide with a bullet to the head," Liege city prosecutor Daniele Reynders told a press conference.

"He left no message to explain his act."

But Reynders said Amrani, a Belgian of Moroccan descent left orphaned at an early age, had been summoned by police at about the same time he went on the rampage, but never showed up.

Officials and lawyers painted the picture of a man with a passion for arms and a troubled criminal past who was afraid of being thrown behind bars again, 14 months after being released on parole.

Police from the vice squad wanted to question him in relation to an inquiry into sexual harassment, according to Le Soir daily.

"He was a delinquent who was in trouble throughout his life, up before children's courts, petty courts, appeals courts," said Cedric Visart de Bocarme, the prosecutor for the Liege region.

He was released from jail on parole in October 2010 after serving much of a 42-month drugs sentence delivered when he was arrested in possession of 2,800 cannabis plants in 2007. Police had also seized more than 9,000 weapons parts at the time.

On Tuesday, police in all found nine magazines in his bag along with his automatic rifle, hand-gun and several grenades, Reynders said.

"He liked arms and had a record but he was a very poised, very calm man," said one of his former lawyers -- who goes by the same surname but is not related -- Abdelhadi Amrani.

"I would never have expected him to be behind the drama in Liege," he told RTBF television. "He must have snapped."

A baby was the latest victim after officials revised the initial toll downwards, with a 75-year-old woman previously reported dead said by the prosecutor to be alive but in critical condition, along with several others.

Around 120 people were injured, said Home Affairs Minister Joelle Milquet, who broke off European Union talks to dash to Liege along with King Albert II and Queen Paola, and Belgium's just-named Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

Instead of heading to the police station, Amrani on Tuesday drove to Saint Lambert Square in his van and climbed to a roof above a bakery from where he had a bird's-eye view of the crowd below.

He lobbed grenades into packed bus shelters before opening fire on the panicked crowd, according to witnesses.

"We're afraid of returning to the square," said one Liege resident. "You can't imagine a drama like this taking place on such a busy square, a place we all go to all the time."

As gunfire echoed through the city Tuesday, rumours spread that several gunmen were on the loose in what was thought to be a possible escape bid involving a convict from the nearby courthouse.

The rumours sent residents fleeing in panic as police ran down streets in pursuit of non-existent gunmen.

Hours after the drama, people wept on sidewalks amid the wail of ambulance sirens and the roar of helicopters overhead. There were pools of blood on the streets.

Prosecutor Reynders said that in his numerous brushes with the law, Amrani's mental stability "was never in question."

© 2011 AFP

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