Belgium’s most violent attack in peace time left four people dead, including a 17-month-old child, and five more in intensive care in the eastern city of Liege.
The city’s prosecutor said yesterday’s suicide attack, carried out by a convicted criminal, left one young man dead at the scene and sent 124 people to local hospitals, where two more died. That brought the death toll to four, including the attacker, who shot himself. A 75-year-old woman, whom officials initially counted among the dead, is still receiving treatment, Liege prosecutor Daniele Reynders told reporters today.
The body of a slain cleaning woman was later 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.
“If you look at the consequences, the number of victims, it’s one of the main attacks we have ever known in Belgium,” Brice De Ruyver, a professor of criminology at the University of Ghent, said by telephone.
Kristel Beyens, a criminologist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the capital’s main Dutch-speaking university, called the attack the country’s worst-ever during peace time.
“Belgium now is following other countries that have had their own incidents,” such as the killing of 77 people in Norway last July, Beyens said. “I can’t recall an attack like this, when someone kills people like this on the street” on this scale, she said.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said yesterday that he was “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, a Belgian citizen, 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 in a vice investigation at 1 p.m. yesterday.
Amrani had served three years in prison on charges of arms possession and drug trafficking, Reynders said. He was released from prison in October 2010.
The attack “gives you an idea how comfortable it is on the illicit weapon market,” De Ruyver said. Belgium has “an enormous amount of illicit illegal weapons,” as in other countries.
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.
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.
“We have to be careful in making such a judgment, however,” because the discovery of the slain woman in Amrani’s shed may cast new light on his motives, Bosly said.