The large-scale search for the fugitive Belgian soldier Jurgen Conings has still not yielded anything. 250 officers and 150 military personnel are returning to the Hoge Kempen National Park, where they are supported by the DOVO military service, which specializes in clearing explosives.
Earlier today, a search was also set up in a suburb of Leuven, near the house of the virologist Marc Van Ranst in hiding. Police searched the area, but found nothing. The neighborhood is safe, the police said, emphasizing that it was a preventive action.
The 46-year-old soldier has been wanted since Tuesday. The Afghanistan veteran wrote in a suicide note to "oppose" the government and well-known virologists, such as Van Ranst. He would also "not surrender without a fight". His car was found in a nature reserve on the border with Limburg. It contained four rocket launchers and ammunition. The police assume that the soldier is armed.
Justice in Belgium assumes that Conings has taken refuge in the extensive nature reserve. The public prosecutor’s office has "many clues" for this. The nature reserve of 12,000 hectares is therefore closed to pedestrians and cyclists. Anyone who enters the area risks a fine of 200 euros.
Help from Dutch police, highway closed
The police carry out sweeping actions in the nature reserve , in which parts are demarcated and then combed through meter by meter. In addition, the Belgian police will receive support from colleagues from the Netherlands and Germany, who also guard the border with Belgium in case Conings tries to flee the country, VRT reports .
The National Unit in the Netherlands says it is "alert", but makes no statements about the Dutch efforts in the vicinity of the Belgian nature reserve.
In Dutch Limburg, the police have cordoned off the Kerensheide junction near Geleen in the direction of the Belgian border to limit traffic in the nature reserve. Traffic to Belgium will be diverted via Maastricht and Liège. It is unclear how long the closure will take.
At the request of the Belgian police, #knooppunt #Kerensheide, towards the Belgian border, has been closed off for traffic. Traffic will be diverted on the spot. The conclusion has to do with the search for the fugitive Belgian soldier.
Prosecutor Wenke Roggen says that shots were fired in the nature reserve yesterday. She could not say who fired and why. Local residents say that shots were also heard this morning, but the OM could not confirm that.
Yesterday, the Belgian police distributed this photo of Conings:
Police warn that civilians should not approach Conings themselves, but notify the police immediately. The soldier is about 6 feet tall, bald and has several tattoos. He was wearing a dark Timberland T-shirt when he left home on Tuesday.
Anxiety in schools
Het Belang van Limburg reports that dozens of primary school children in the region have stayed at home today. "We’ve already had several worried parents on the phone," a school principal told the newspaper. The gate around his school building was therefore closed when all the children were inside.
For the time being, no additional security measures are being taken, the governor of Belgian Limburg told Belga news agency. Several mosques in the area will remain closed as a precaution. Islamic places of worship are additionally guarded in Maasmechelen. It is unclear whether the mosques are a concrete target for Conings.
Minister under fire
The Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder, who herself has also received extra security, has been strongly criticized as a result of the Conings case. The soldier was known to the Belgian counter-terrorist services as a "potentially violent extremist with extreme right-wing ideas", but was nevertheless able to take heavy weapons with him undisturbed from a barracks for target practice.
In a parliamentary debate today, the minister said that stricter action will be taken against soldiers who express themselves racist, sexist or fascist. For example, stricter punishments will be imposed or such soldiers will be fired.
A parliamentarian from the Social Democratic party Vooruit reminded Dedonder that there have been concerns about extremist soldiers for some time. “When I asked you about it the other day, you said, ‘There’s not much we can do about it.
Belgian Prime Minister De Croo warned in the debate that repression is not the only solution to radicalization in society. "The key is an inclusive society in which everyone counts. We do not allow ourselves to be divided by situations like this."