News24

Belgian gunman feared prison

2011-12-14 21:58

Liege - Nordine Amrani, the lone-wolf gunman who committed suicide after a fatal shooting spree in a crowded Belgian square, was an ex-convict with a passion for arms but a fear of being thrown behind bars again.

The 33-year-old Amrani was well known to police before he went on the rampage in the eastern Belgian city of Liege, opening fire on families shopping for Christmas and youths leaving end-of-year school exams.

"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.

Born on November 15 1978 in a Brussels suburb, Amrani was orphaned in childhood and was "very quickly left to fend for himself", said one of his lawyers Abdelhadi Amrani, who despite his name, is not a relative.

A welder by trade, Amrani's repeated brushes with the law included charges of drug dealing, petty theft, illegal arms possession and rape in 2003. He served five and a half years behind bars.

Perfect parolee

In 2007, detectives discovered an arsenal when raiding his home, finding 9 500 gun parts, including silencers and rifles, as well as 2 800 cannabis plants.

He is said to have been expert at dismantling, repairing and assembling all sorts of weapons, but was never linked to any terrorist act or network.

Acquitted on the arms charges, Amrani was sentenced to 48 months in jail for drug offences in 2009, but paroled in October 2010.

On leaving jail, Amrani seemed the epitome of the perfect parolee.

As a welder "he had hands of gold. He could pull apart a vehicle and put it together again practically with his eyes shut. He was a great mechanic," said his former lawyer.

Respecting the terms of his conditional release by remaining in touch as required with parole officers, Amrani also found a partner and a home, registered for unemployment benefits, regularly had therapy with a psychologist, and more recently, signed up for a metal-workers training scheme.

"He liked arms and had a record but he was a very poised, very calm man," said his namesake lawyer. "I would never have expected him to be behind the drama in Liege."

"He must have snapped," he told RTBF television.

Sexual harassment

The lawyer said that once when visiting Amrani in prison, "he said he was desperate and at times had black thoughts".

"He felt 'harassed' by the police," he added. "After completing his [last] sentence he felt he'd paid his debt to society but felt harassed by officers who'd bring up earlier cases."

Amrani had been summoned for questioning by the vice squad on Tuesday at 13:30 in what Belgian media said was a sexual harassment inquiry. His vehicle had been identified as being parked near the spot where an alleged incident took place.

He never showed up for the interview, instead driving his van to the city's central Saint-Lambert square at lunch-hour, where from a rooftop vantage point he threw grenades into packed bus shelters before firing his assault rifle into the crowd.

At least four people died during his spree including a woman apparently killed before he went to the square.

One of his worker colleagues said that the police inquiry was sapping Amrani's morale.

"He said to me: 'In December I'm going to have judicial problems again.' He was stressed out about this."

Suicide

He was given a two-year suspended sentence for rape in 2003, but if convicted again for a similar sentence would have had to serve it.

One of his lawyers, Jean-Franois Dister, said Amrani had called him on Monday and Tuesday about the 13:30 summons.

"He was quite anxious about the possibility of returning to prison. I think it worried him a lot," Dister said.

Lister said he was "nervous" but not to the point of killing. "I still don't understand what happened."

After the shootings on the square, Amrani turned the gun on himself.

"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."