Last night’s search of a large perimeter of the National Park Hoge Kempen in Limburg, involving security forces from three countries, produced one result: the discovery of the place where armed fugitive Jürgen Conings had apparently been camping since he went rogue.
Conings, a 46-year-old military veteran who has undergone marksman training and has served several tours on Afghanistan, as well as Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq, disappeared from view on Tuesday after having left behind two farewell notes for his partner, informing her that he did not intend to survive what he was about to do.
It was then discovered he had absconded with heavy weaponry taken from one of the military bases where he worked. His car was found on the edge of the Dilsenbos at Dilsen-Stokkem, where he lives. But he was nowhere to be found in the vicinity.
It was then assumed he had taken refuge in the Hoge Kempen National Park, a much larger area.
In the course of Wednesday and Thursday, Belgium’s police and army gathered on the edge of the park, with support from forces from Germany and the Netherlands, both of which border closely on the area in question. And not only manpower, but also two helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and other heavy vehicles.
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Yesterday in the daytime, the only sign of Conings’ presence to be seen since his car was found in the woods: a groundsheet presumed to have been used by him to improvise a sleeping place.
Up to 400 police and soldiers spread out on a designated perimeter to carry out a sweep of the entire area. But of Conings, no further sign was found.
“The sweep did not lead to the discovery of the wanted person,” said Wenke Roggen of the federal prosecutor's office. “The search continues now, but I cannot elaborate on that now.”
Meanwhile virologist Marc Van Ranst, a highly visible public figure since the start of the coronavirus epidemic last year, is being kept with his family in a safe house, after having been mentioned by name in one of Conings’ letters.
The family feels well-protected, Van Ranst told De Morgen, thanks to the impressive weaponry his security detail is equipped with, but his 12-year-old son Milo is missing school.
Van Ranst has been the target of criticism, all the way down to hate speech, in the past, but this threat is being taken very seriously. Does that make him think, the paper asked, he should perhaps tone down his outspoken ways?
“Absolutely not. Radicalised people from extremist movements, whether or not equipped with rocket launchers, are not going to determine my life in the least.”