Violent Belgian criminal Madani Bouhouche was recently beheaded in an accidental death, but will investigations finally link him to 28 killings committed by the infamous Gang of Nijvel in the 1980s? Aaron Gray-Block reports.
News broke this week that one of Belgium's most famous criminals died a violent death in the French Pyrenees on 22 November 2005 — possibility taking his secrets to the grave.
The accident took place near the French city of Foix and Bouhouche's body was found by a female neighbour. His body was cremated in the presence of a few family members.
And yet it was not until shortly before Christmas that the Belgian judiciary became aware of Bouhouche's death. The discovery was made by a search of the population register.
However, his death has now presented the Belgian judiciary an opportunity to conduct further investigations at the farmhouse into the Gang of Nijvel, which was involved in the killing of 28 people at the start of 1980s.
The extreme-right Bouhouche was long suspected, but never convicted, of withholding information about the gang, infamous for violent attacks and robberies in large shopping stores in an apparent attempt to destabilise the Belgian state.
A violent past
Together with his inseparable companion and former state police officer, Robert 'Bob' Beijer, Bouhouche was suspected of some of the most infamous crimes in the 1980s.
Bouhouche and Beijer faced trial in 1994 for a series of crimes committed between 1981 and 1989.
Bouhouche maintained his silence, but was found guilty of handling stolen weapons. The weapons were stolen from the Special Intervention Squadron in 1982.
He was also convicted of the manslaughter of Libyan diamond dealer Ali Suleiman in Antwerp on 2 September 1989.
Suleiman died during an argument with Bouhouche and Beijer — who were then amateur private detectives — in his Antwerp office. Both men kept silent about the matter.
They also refused to talk about the disappearance in 1982 of Francis Zwarts, a security officer of Belgian airline Sabena. Zwarts disappeared with a shipment of gold and bonds he was transporting. His body was never found.
Brussels Court sentenced Bouhouche in January 1995 to 20 years jail. Beijer got 14 years.
However, Bouhouche was never found guilty of the murder of Juan Mendez, an engineer with weapons maker FN in Herstal on 7 January 1986. He was also acquitted of an attack against state police major Herman Vernaillen in October 1981.
Gang of Nijvel
Despite his convictions, rumours in the 1980s and 1990s persistently linked Bouhouche — and Beijer — to the Gang of Nijvel.
However, no proof was ever found and instead, Bouhouche 'passed' a lie detector test. A DNA comparison also yielded nothing.
He was released on parole in September 2000 after serving 11 years of his 20-year jail term (including the six years Bouhouche spent in pre-trial remand detention).
Bouhouche then closed himself off to the world and to the casual eye, led a hermit's life in the mountains.
Shortly after his release, Bouhouche moved with his girlfriend to the French Pyrenees, where they lived on a remote, simple farm near the city of Foix. He farmed goats, bred dogs and made cheese. In the past year, he lived there alone.
In response to Bouhouche's death, Jumet judiciary officials travelled to France on 1 January to search the farm for clues linked to inquiries into the Gang of Nijvel.
Judiciary spokesman Vos said investigators were looking for weapons or documents and were prepared to conduct a very thorough investigation.
Investigators in the Pyrenees said on 3 January they had found a gun and documents at Bouhouche's farm in what appeared to be spectacular discoveries.
A riot gun without ammunition was found hidden behind a book case. A computer, discs and th