As expected yesterday, the hunt for fugitive military man Jürgen Conings has now been called off in the Hoge Kempen National Park, after days of fruitless searching by hundreds of police and army forces.
Limburg governor Jos Lantmeeters declared the park newly open to the public.
"The Federal Prosecutor's Office is convinced that he [Jürgen Conings] is no longer in the National Park at the moment. They also do not know where he is, but there are insufficient reasons to keep the Park closed any longer, so it is opened up again.”
Instead, yesterday saw a series of search warrants being executed across Flanders. Conings has now been designated a terrorist suspect, with the appointment of a specialist investigating magistrate and provisional charges of “attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons in a terrorist context.”
This allows the security forces extra powers when investigating the case, which they would not have in the case of a routine criminal. Reminder: So far the only offence Conings has committed since he disappeared is the removal of weapons from an Army stock.
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As far as is known yesterday’s searches took place at Conings’ own home; the home of Tomas Boutens, a former soldier and convicted terrorist, and the leader of the neo-Nazi group BBET (Blood, Homeland, Honour and Trust); Emmanuel M., who appeared at a recent Vlaams Belang rally with Nazi memorabilia, and who now lives in Hungary; and Alexander G., a Ukrainian-Belgian with links to paramilitary organisations.
The investigators took DNA samples, but it is not yet clear what the direction of the enquiry is now taking.
• Conings has now been been included on the Interpol list of wanted criminal suspects, meaning the manhunt is now international.
• Police are now working on the assumption that Conings had a second target, as well as virologist Marc Van Ranst, who is still in a safe house with his family. According to reports, before his disappearance Conings told a fellow soldier of similar sympathies that he wanted to carry out an attack on a mosque in Eisden in Maasmechelen, which investigators take to refer to the Tehvid mosque. That mosque, like many other in the area, is now being guarded by police armed with machine pistols.
• Whatever happens next, the search for Conings cannot go on for weeks longer, according to Steven Gelders, a former member of Special Forces, speaking yesterday on Terzake. “In his condition, things will sooner or later go wrong.”