Belgium has stepped up efforts to track down a soldier who went on the run after threatening several public figures, including a top virologist. The armed suspect had been flagged by the government as a potential extremist.
Jurgen Conings reportedly took four rocket launchers and an array of other weapons from his military barracks before disappearing on Monday. He was last seen leaving his home in Belgium’s northeastern Limburg province.
The authorities have described the soldier as a “potentially highly violent extremist” who holds far-right views. He reportedly left behind messages signaling that he wouldn’t peacefully surrender, explaining that he “could no longer live in a society where politicians and virologists have taken everything away from us.”
He had made threats against several people in recent weeks, including one of the country’s top virologists, Marc Van Ranst. Ranst and his family were moved to a safe location.
Hours after initiating a manhunt, police found Conings’ car abandoned in a nearby forest. The vehicle contained four missile launchers and a large amount of ammunition. It’s believed the 46-year-old is still armed with other weapons and is outfitted with a bulletproof vest.
Local media reported that armored vehicles joined the “massive” deployment of soldiers and police who were searching for Conings on Wednesday night and into Thursday.
Videos and photographs show military vehicles arriving at Hoge Kempen National Park, where it’s believed the suspect may be hiding out.
Authorities have cordoned off the 12,000 hectares (46 square miles) of protected forest, located near the Dutch border. A number of military barracks in the area have also been closed, with soldiers barred from leaving, according to reports.
— Romain Mayez (@RomainMayez) May 20, 2021
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has expressed frustration over the incident, noting that Conings had previously been flagged by the country’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis, which identifies potential terror threats.
“[That] someone who has already made threats in the past … that this man within Defense has access to weapons and can even take those weapons with him … is unacceptable,” De Croo said on Wednesday.
He called on the military to draw up plans to ensure that such incidents can be prevented in the future.
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