Belgium’s most violent attack in peace time left four victims dead, including a 17-month-old child, and five more in intensive care in the eastern city of Liege.
The city’s prosecutor said Tuesday’s suicide attack, carried out by a convicted criminal, left one teenage boy dead at the scene and sent 124 people to local hospitals, where two more, including another teenage boy, died.
A 75-year-old woman, whom officials initially counted among the dead, was still receiving treatment, Liege prosecutor Daniele Reynders told reporters yesterday.
The body of a slain cleaning woman was also found in a shed belonging to the 33-year-old assailant, Nordine Amrani, during a search after the massacre, Reynders said.
The woman died of a gunshot to the head “during an encounter that took place yesterday morning,” before Amrani threw three grenades and fired on a crowd waiting at a downtown bus stop, she said.
“Belgium now is following other countries that have had their own incidents,” such as the killing of 77 people in Norway last July, said Kristel Beyens, a criminologist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the capital’s main Flemish university.
She called it the country’s worst attack in peace time.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy said on Tuesday that he was “completely overwhelmed” by the “atrocious murders” in Liege.
“I am perplexed, I am horrified,” said Van Rompuy, who was Belgian prime minister from December 2008 to November 2009.
The attacker, a Belgian citizen, arrived at Saint Lambert Square, a busy shopping district, in a van with his weapons — a pistol, an FAL assault rifle and grenades — in a bag. He had been summoned for questioning by police in a vice investigation at 1pm on Tuesday.
Instead of heading to the police station, Amrani drove to the 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. The explosions sent shards of glass from the shelters across a wide area.
It remained unclear what motivated the attack.
Reynders said that after searches of Amrani’s house terrorism could be excluded as the driving force.
Amrani had served three years in prison on charges of arms possession and drug trafficking, Reynders said. He was released from prison on Oct. 8 last year.
Of his victims, five are fighting for their lives in intensive care and 40 have been treated for psychological trauma, Reynders said.
Amrani died after shooting himself in the head, though a fourth grenade also detonated near him, she said.
In all, police found nine magazines in his bag along with his automatic rifle, handgun and several grenades, Reynders said.
“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.”
At first glance, the Liege killings differ from recent atrocities in Belgium, such as a deadly 2009 attack on a daycare center in the village of Dendermonde, because of the attacker’s “hatred toward society in general,” rather than toward a specific target or group, Henri Bosly, a former professor of criminal law at the Catholic University of Louvain, said by telephone.