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Belgian gunman offered no explanation

2011-12-14 17:09

Liege - The lone gunman armed with grenades who went on a murderous spree in the Belgian city of Liege shot himself in the head after slaying three youngsters on a crowded square and killing a woman, the prosecutor said on Wednesday.

"Nordine Amrani committed suicide with a bullet to the head," said Daniele Reynders at a press conference. "He left no message to explain his act."

The statement cleared up speculation that the 33-year-old with a long criminal record may have died when a fourth grenade he was carrying exploded accidentally.

In all, police found nine magazines in his bag along with his automatic rifle, hand-gun and several grenades, Reynders said.

Two youngsters aged 15 and 17 and a baby of 17 months died in Amrani's lunch-hour grenade and gun attack on Liege's central square, packed with Christmas shoppers and children just out of school.

‘Country feeling the pain’

The baby was the latest victim after succumbing to injuries overnight, with a 75-year-old woman previously reported dead said by the prosecutor to be alive but in critical condition, along with several others.

Around 120 people were injured, said Home Affairs Minister Joelle Milquet, who broke off European Union talks to dash to Liege along with King Albert II and Queen Paola, and Belgium's just-named Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

"The entire country feels the pain," Di Rupo said.

Earlier on Wednesday, police also discovered the body of a dead cleaning woman aged around 40 lying in a shed used by Amrani to stash cannabis plants and illegal weapons.

Released on parole just over a year ago for drug offences, Amrani had been summoned by police in the morning but never showed up.

"He liked arms and had a record but he was a very poised, very calm man," said one of his former lawyers - who goes by the same surname but is not related - Abdelhadi Amrani.

"I would never have expected him to be behind the drama in Liege," he told RTBF television. "He must have snapped."

Convicted for vice

Amrani, who in 2003 was convicted for vice but given a suspended sentence, was released from jail on parole in October 2010 after serving much of a 42-month drugs sentence delivered when he was arrested in possession of 2 800 cannabis plants in 2007.

The prosecutor would not say exactly why he had been summoned by police at 13:00 on Tuesday, saying simply that since his parole the summons "in a vice inquiry" was his only brush with police.

The vice squad "was interested in him due to a licence-plate" linked to a complaint they were investigating.

The daily Le Soir said the investigation was over sexual harassment.

Instead of heading to the police station, Amrani drove to the central Saint Lambert square, climbed onto the roof of a bakery and lobbed grenades into packed bus shelters before opening fire on the panicked crowd, according to witnesses.

"We're afraid of returning to the square," said a woman in Liege on Wednesday. "You can't imagine a drama like this taking place on such a busy square, a place we all go to all the time."

On Wednesday, baker Patricia said: "We heard two huge deafening noises and then lots of explosions, people were running everywhere.

"We closed the door, turned off the lights and hid behind the counter with the customers."

Not a terrorist attack

As gunfire echoed through the city on Tuesday, rumours spread that several gunmen were on the loose in what was thought to be a possible escape bid involving a convict from the nearby courthouse.

The rumours sent residents fleeing in panic as police ran down streets in pursuit of non-existent gunmen.

Hours after the drama, people wept on pavements amid the wail of ambulance sirens and the roar of helicopters overhead. There were pools of blood on the streets.

British Prime Minister David Cameron telephoned Di Rupo to express condolences over the "appalling attacks".

"There are no elements to suppose there was any terrorist claim" in the attack, Reynders said.
In his numerous brushes with the law, Amrani's "stability was never in question," she added.