Jurgen Conings – a heavily armed Belgium soldier on the country’s terror watch list (pictured) who is currently being hunted by police – is feared to have drawn up a hit-list of 10 potential targets
A heavily armed Belgium soldier on the country’s terror watch list and currently being hunted by police is feared to have drawn up a hit-list of 10 potential targets.
One leading Covid-19 expert and Belgium’s defence minister are believed to be two targets of 46-year-old Corporal Jurgen Conings, who has been sought by police for over a fortnight and has been nicknamed the ‘Belgium Rambo’ by media.
According to local media, investigators increased the security for 10 people thought to be on the man’s hit-list after they read letters left by the fugitive for his partner before he disappeared last month, sparking fears that he drew up a hit-list.
One of Belgium’s most well-known coronavirus experts Marc Van Ranst – who has been behind many of the country’s covid decisions – was taken to a police safe house along with his family after Conings took the arsenal of heavy weapons.
There were also reports that Conings had looked up Mr Van Ranst’s address and had even been loitering outside of his house for a few hours on the evening of his disappearance.
A lawyer involved in Conings’ divorce and his ex-wife are also both under police protection, according to the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper.
Senior figures in the country’s military – which disciplined Conings for his political views last year – have been given extra security, as has Ludivine Dedonder, who is Belgium’s defence minister.
Not all people being given extra protection will be taken to safe houses, according to Belgian media. Some measures will be limited to extra patrols surrounding a person’s house.
Belgian prosecutors refused to confirm the measures to local media sources.
Security measures have also been implemented at Mosques and asylum centres in the Belgium province of Limburg, Flanders, since the soldier’s disappearance.
Conings’ extremist views landed him on the country’s right-wing terror watch list, and he has thus-far avoided capture by police and special forces for over two weeks, despite a nation-wide manhunt.
Conings made threats against Marc Van Ranst, the outspoken virologist who is leading Belgian’s response to the coronavirus crisis [File photo]. Van Ranst is believed to be among 10 people to be on
Local media had previously reported that Conings was armed with four anti-tank rocket launchers, a machine gun and a pistol, allegedly stolen from his barracks. He was also thought to be wearing a bulletproof vest.
He also reportedly withdrew €3,000 – the full contents of his bank account – before he abandoned his car on May 18 at a national park in Limburg, which is close to Belgium’s border with The Netherlands.
The rocket launchers were later recovered from the boot of the car, but there was no signs of the fugitive and former sniper who joined the army in 1992 served in Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The career soldier had previously voiced a hatred towards lockdowns and vaccinations amid the coronavirus pandemic. He also left a note saying he would not be taken alive.
Hundreds of special forces were seen searching woodland in the Hoge Kempen last week, a week after a major military operation that involved 600 soldiers – including some from The Netherlands and Germany – failed to find Conings.
Federal prosecutors in Belgium has admitted that the longer he is not found, the greater the chances are that Conings will have killed himself, but that investigators will continue to work on the assumption that he is alive and still poses a threat.
Investigators increased the security for the 10 people thought to be on the man’s hit-list after they read letters left by the fugitive for his partner before he disappeared last month, sparking fears that he drew up a hit-list
Authorities were alerted after his girlfriend Gwendy, 46, discovered several letters left by Conings, including one to his family saying that he ‘could no longer live in a society where politicians and virologists have taken everything away from us.’
He also warned that he ‘would join the resistance and would not surrender’.
Conings threatened several figures in the letters including Van Ranst, though it may not have been the first time he has made threats against the virologist.
Last year, Conings was put on desk duty after reportedly tweeting: ‘Who has Van Ranst’s address?’
The leading scientist is an active social media user and his views have made him a target of conspiracy theorists, Covid-sceptics, and the Flemish far-right.
He has been under armed protection for some time but was put into hiding along with his family when the hunt for Conings began.
Senior figures in the country’s military – which disciplined Conings for his political views last year – have been given extra security, as has Ludivine Dedonder, who is Belgium’s defence minister. Pictured: Soldiers join the search for Conings last month
Van Ranst told Flemish outlet De Morgen that he felt well protected but that his young son was missing school.
When asked whether the incident made him reconsider his outspoken ways, he responded:
‘Absolutely not. Radicalised people from extremist movements, whether or not equipped with rocket launchers, are not going to determine my life in the least.’
Yesterday, Van Ranst claimed that Conings had been staking out his home.
‘There were indications that this guy had come to scout the town where I live,’ the virologist said. ‘He spent a number of hours there.’
Coning’s girlfriend Gwendy, 46, has told local media that all she wants is ‘her tough, sweet teddy bear’ back, describing the soldier as a ‘loving father’ to his two children and her daughter.
Conings’ extremist views landed him on the country’s right-wing terror watch list, and he has thus-far avoided capture by police and special forces for over two weeks, despite a nation-wide manhunt. Pictured: Police gather amid the search for the the fugitive
But Gwendy said she doesn’t recognise Conings as a Rambo-like character nor does she know anything of his anti-lockdown stance.
‘That’s not my Jurgen,’ she told Algemeen Dagblad. ‘I don’t know him like that at all. As far as I know, he had no extremist thoughts. And as far as I know he never threatened Marc Van Ranst.’
She added that he would occasionally swear at the television because of the Covid lockdown rules.
‘But aren’t there a lot of people who swear at that, who are all sick of it? Hand on heart: I have never heard anything about death threats,’ Gwendy added.
Timeline: Belgium’s coronavirus response
February 4, 2020: First case detected
March 11: First reported death
March 18: First nationwide lockdown begins
May 4: Lockdown measures begin easing
May 11: Shops open to the public
June 8: Cafes and restaurants allowed to open
July 25: Face coverings made compulsory in public indoor spaces and busy outdoor spaces
July 28: Curfew announced for Antwerp province
November 2: Second nationwide lockdown begins
May 8, 2021: Lockdown measures begin easing
Van Ranst, who has proposed many of the social distancing measures adopted in Belgium, has been speaking out since the manhunt began and condemning social media ‘trolls’ making threats against him.
The virologist said that ‘being against COVID measures and COVID vaccines all too often coincides with aggression of violence and raw racism. Let one thing be clear: such threats do not make the slightest impression on me.’
On his Twitter profile Conings describes himself as a ‘Belgian Air Force soldier who likes fitness, bodybuilding and boxing’, already featured on a list of extremists monitored by Belgium’s anti-terrorist agency.
He was one of around 30 Belgian military personnel with known extremist sympathies, officials said, but he remained on active duty, training Belgian troops ahead of deployment on overseas missions.
Army sources told Dutch-language Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws that Conings was ‘an extreme right-wing weapons nut who does not shy away from violence,’ and ‘an antivaxer who hates Van Ranst.’
Flemish outlet De Morgen said Conings’ Facebook profile mentions the Siegrune, the symbol used by the SS during World War II.
Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told Flemish broadcaster VTM it was ‘unacceptable’ that the fugitive had been allowed to access the weapons, and Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder said an inquiry would be launched.
‘The real question is of course: how is this possible?’ De Croo. ‘Someone who has already made threats in the past – that this man within defence has access to weapons and can even take those weapons with him. It is unacceptable.’
Conings’ police wanted notice shows a thick set man with a shaved head. In his Twitter profile, he appears shirtless, revealing his muscular, tattooed torso.
He is 6ft 2in, muscular and was said to be a wearing a dark Timberland T-shirt at the time of his disappearance.
Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told VRT television: ‘There are signs that he is violent and, over the course of the past 24 hours, evidence has emerged that shows this man presents an acute threat.’