Fugitive soldier spent two hours near home of ‘target’ Marc Van Ranst on Monday
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Fugitive soldier spent two hours near home of ‘target’ Marc Van Ranst on Monday

Credit: Belga

The fugitive soldier Jürgen Conings (46) was in the neighbourhood of his “target,” virologist Marc Van Ranst, on Monday evening, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne confirmed on Friday afternoon after consultation with the Crisis Centre.

On the fourth day of the manhunt for Conings, an armed and radicalised soldier hiding from police since Tuesday after taking weapons from a military base and making threats against Van Ranst, Van Quickenborne confirmed to VRT NWS that the man did not act impulsively.

“The search is still ongoing, but it is now clear from the judicial investigation that this was not an impulsive act,” he said. “The man has been preparing for this for days, he is someone who is on the terrorist list, he is very dangerous.”

“For example, it has emerged that on Monday evening when he disappeared, he was near a target, hung around there for more than two hours, and finally turned back,” Van Quickenborne said.

He did not give any details about who the target was, but reliable sources confirmed to VRT that it concerned virologist Marc Van Ranst, who was brought to a secure location where he has been staying with his family since Tuesday.

“The next day, on Tuesday, his car was found. The investigation showed that it had been booby-trapped with the intention of making victims,” Van Quickenborne said, adding that munition and weapons of war were found inside.

Conings was previously placed under covert surveillance by military intelligence for his extreme right-wing views, and was also included on a list of the terrorist risk analysis unit OCAM as a PGE: a potentially violent extremist.

“So, this is someone who is very dangerous, and it is no coincidence that he is on the OCAM terrorist list,” he said. “He wants to use violence against society, and against our citizens.”

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In response to the thousands of people who have expressed their support for Conings on social media, Van Quickenborne underlined that people should “properly understand what kind of person this man really is.”

“This is the only soldier on the OCAM list, and that’s a terrorist list. People are not placed on such a list lightly,” he said. “This is someone who wants to use violence because of his extremist ideologies.”

“You should know that the jihadi extremists of IS are also on that list,” Van Quickenborne stressed. “He is that kind of person, who is a threat to our society and the safety of our people.

In the meantime, the search for Conings continues in the Hoge Kempen National Park in Limburg. “This is evaluated hour by hour, but we hope, of course, to find him as soon as possible,” said Van Quickenborne.

The federal public prosecutor’s office assumes that Conings is still alive, and the focus of the search is still on the National Park, even though the perimeter for the investigation has now been expanded.

Over 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.

Not only manpower, but also two helicopters, armoured personnel carriers and other heavy vehicles were deployed in the search.

During a “thorough sweep” of the area on Thursday, a groundsheet was found, presumed to have been used by Conings to improvise a sleeping place.

On Friday, an examining magistrate opened an investigation for “attempted murder in a terrorist context, and prohibited possession of weapons in a terrorist context,” the federal public prosecutor’s office confirmed to the Belga news agency.

Meanwhile, Van Ranst and his family feel well-protected, thanks to the impressive weaponry his security detail is equipped with, he told De Morgen earlier.