Police have been conducting a manhunt for hours now in Limburg, searching for a heavily armed man who made threats against virologist Marc Van Ranst.
The suspect is a professional soldier from the barracks of Peutie, said to be armed with a rocket launcher, a machine gun and an ordinary pistol.
The manhunt started earlier in the day in Leopoldsburg, but has since been extended northwards in the province. Van Ranst and his family have been taken to an undisclosed safe location until the man is taken into police custody.
“That person has apparently moved around,” Erik Cenens of the police told Radio 2 this afternoon.
“[He was] first in the Beringen region and then further north towards Pelt, the Netherlands and Maasland. We are trying to locate the man as exactly as possible to be able to arrest him.”
The federal public prosecutor's office has taken over the case from the public prosecutor's office in Limburg and reports that the wanted man is in his forties, and there are signs that point to “a serious threat of violent action.”
They are making no further comment for the time being.
According to VRT, the man is someone with extreme-right sympathies who has previously made threats against virologist Marc Van Ranst.
It is still unclear how related those threats are to the current manhunt. VRT reports that it’s possible these are old threats.
Update (7:45 PM): According to reporting from De Morgen, the man insinuated in a farewell letter that he was going to “join the resistance and may not survive.”
The Dutch language news outlet reports that the suspect is a 46-year-old who drives a grey Audi Q5, and appears on a list from OCAD (the organisation responsible for threat analysis) in the category “potentially dangerous extreme right-wing.”
His Facebook profile name refers to the “Siegrune,” the runic symbol used by the SS during World War II, and he was already under surveillance by the military intelligence service ADIV due to his anti-migration views.
He is thought to be wearing a bulletproof vest, and the weapons and ammunition he carries were allegedly stolen from a barracks.
A memo circulating within the security services calls for him to be approached “with extreme caution,” and avoiding a confrontation is partly why the manhunt has been going on for hours.
As of 1:27 PM, OCAD has set a threat level four for this person, which means that he is considered a danger at any moment.
All security services are on standby and the case remains with the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office.
“There is a fear that he is committing violence against himself or against others and the target remains unclear,” a spokesperson for the public prosecutor's office said.
Sources confirmed the existence of a farewell letter to De Morgen.
“A letter has been found in which he says he will not be taken alive,” one source told the outlet.
The national crisis centre is following up the case.
The search started after the Kempenland police area received a call this afternoon that the man was in the neighbourhood of Leopoldsburg.
“It is important to trace him,” said Eric Cenens, commissioner of the Kempenland police area.
“In the meantime, we have information that he is no longer directly in our region, but our capacity remains ready. Given the recent threats and possible firearms, he is potentially dangerous.”
Update (7:45 AM) – The search for the man continued into the night, after a forest ranger found a parked car in the Dilserbos wood in Dilsen-Stokkem.
The police special intervention unit were present with the Army bomb disposal unit DOVO to ensure the vehicle was safe.
It was then removed from the scene by tow truck and a safety perimeter lifted.
The whereabouts of the man are still unknown, but it is assumed he is now in the woods.
Continued coverage of this story can be found below.