A suicide attacker in the Belgian city of Liege tossed grenades into a crowd and then sprayed it with bullets, leaving at least five people dead including a 17- month-old toddler.
At least 132 were wounded in yesterday’s assault at a bus stop, according to preliminary official figures. The dead also included “a 15-year-old -- a young boy who died on the spot --a 17-year-old and a 75-year-old woman,” city prosecutor Daniele Reynders said in a televised press conference.
A fifth fatality, a 17-month-old toddler, was confirmed by Eddy Lambert, spokesman for CHC hospital in Liege.
The 33-year-old assailant, Nordine Amrani, who fatally shot himself, had been convicted on arms and drugs charges, Reynders said, adding that he had never been charged with terrorism. An inquiry will determine if the attack was premeditated, Reynders said.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said he is “completely overwhelmed” by the “atrocious murders” in Liege. “Faced with the inexplicable, I am perplexed, I am horrified,” said Van Rompuy, who was Belgian prime minister from December 2008 to November 2009.
The attacker, who lived in Liege, arrived at Saint Lambert Square, a busy shopping district, in a van with his weapons -- a pistol, a rifle and grenades -- in a bag. He had been summoned for questioning by police. Officials destroyed Amrani’s van, Reynders said.
“We’d never observed that he had any mental problems,” Reynders said.
Marta Pawelczyk, 22, a student at the University of Liege, was coming back home from classes when the attack occurred.
“I was at another bus stop about 200 meters from Place Saint Lambert when it happened,” Pawelczyk said by telephone. “There’s a Christmas market there. Around 12:20 I heard a series of very loud explosions. Then I saw people running and telling others to run away from there.”
“There were lots of police cars and ambulances and more people from the market running toward us,” she said. “There was massive panic, everyone was calling their families, some were saying goodbye. It was frightening. I’ve calmed down a little now, but I still can’t come to grips with what’s happened.”
Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo traveled to Liege today to meet with emergency and law enforcement officials, his spokesman Guillaume de Walque said in an e-mailed statement. “His first thoughts are for the victims, their families and those close to them,” de Walque said.