Woman judge and clerk shot dead in Brussels court
A man pulled a gun during a Brussels court hearing Thursday and shot dead a woman judge and court clerk before fleeing, in a new security embarassment for the country.
The man, who had been present throughout the hearing, "pulled out a firearm, a revolver, and fired at the judge and her clerk, killing both," said Jean-Jacques Meilleur, spokesman for the Brussels public prosecutor.
The tribunal had been hearing a family and neighbour dispute case late on Thursday morning when the shooting happened. The tribunal is close to the imposing Palace of Justice in the heart of the Belgian capital.
The assailant "was briefly pursued by one of the lawyers present but he managed to flee on foot down on of the roads in the region," Meilleur added. A major search was launched for the gunman.
Police did not immediately identify the attacker. But several sources said the suspect is an Albanian upset at a recent decision by the magistrate concerning custody of his children.
The victims were 60-year-old magistrate Isabelle Brandon and her court clerk Andre Bellemans.
She had an "excellent curriculum vitae", said Belgium's Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck, who rushed to the scene after the shooting.
"This is a real drama. A magistrate, for the first time in history, and her clerk, were killed right in the tribunal room, it's unacceptable," De Clerck said.
The hearing had been proceeding normally, the prosecutor's spokesman said. Hours after the event it remained unclear whether the gunman had any connection with the case in progress.
A minute's silence was observed by judges and lawyers in the Palace of Justice later in honour of their deceased colleagues, with some members of the judiciary visibly shocked at the events.
"Isabelle told me just days ago how keen she was on a justice close to the people," said Luc Hennart, president of the court of first instance.
"A judge of peace has been assassinated, that's too much," said barrister Xavier Magnee, who defended the notorious paedophile Marc Dutroux.
Prime Minister Yves Leterme was to hold an emergency meeting with De Clerck and Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom, who rushed back from an EU meeting in Luxembourg.
"It's a terrible day for justice and for our society" said De Clerck, in the presence of Leterme and other ministers.
Security in judicial buildings and prisons in Belgium has long been a source of concern, with many escapes in recent years.
Last August, masked men helped three suspects escape the Palace of Justice, taking prison guards hostage in the process.
Around the same time there was a spectacular escape from a prison in the north with the use of a hijacked helicopter.
Just days ahead of snap legislative elections on June 13, the justice minister said he would stop campaigning and called for a debate on security, while ruling out placing security cameras in all courtrooms.
© 2010 AFP