EU leaders will come together in person today in Brussels for the first time in months, just as a heavily armed and desperate military fugitive continues to evade capture.
The scenario could not be more fitting of a Hollywood blockbuster, but it is fact, not fiction. The true story so far:
Jürgen Conings (46) a career soldier, vanished from view on Monday evening last week, leaving behind two letters in which he described himself as on a ‘mission’ against the state and the medical establishment, a venture which he did not expect to survive.
Conings is listed as a dangerous right-wing extremist, of potentially violent tendencies. He is an experienced soldier who has served in conflict zones, and is a marksman and weapons trainer.
Conings is known to have helped himself to heavy weaponry from the weapons store at a military base in Limburg. Some of the armaments were found along with his car, but others remain with him.
It was assumed he was hiding out in the national park where the car was found, but days of searching by an unprecedented force involving police and military from three countries failed to find him.
Now – and only now – investigators are considering the possibility that the clues to his location were part of a trick to send searchers in the wrong direction, and/or that Conings is not acting alone.
Over the weekend, search warrants were carried out at several locations, including the home of a former soldier convicted of terrorism for connection with a right-wing extremist organisation.
But so far, the main fugitive remains at liberty, and no-one has any idea where he might be.
Yesterday, train traffic was held up in Brussels North station, after a report that Conings had been seen in the vicinity. Trains were now allowed to stop, the station was searched and part of it closed down. No trace of the man was found.
Meanwhile the federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw issued an appeal via TV news for Conings to get in touch with someone he trusts with a view to turning himself in peacefully. The federal prosecutor’s office is responsible for cases involving terrorism, and thanks to death threats made against virologist Marc Van Ranst and against a Limburg mosque, Conings is now provisionally charged with “attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons in a terrorist context.”
“We have been working very hard on this search in recent days,” said Van Leeuw. “A major search has been launched in the short term. The army and security services have been deployed to guarantee the safety of everyone, including that of Jürgen Conings.”
The EU summit, meanwhile, will gather to discuss the Covid pandemic, climate change and Russia. Summits always take place under tight security, but there can have been few occasions over the years when such a clear and present danger as Conings was on the loose and untraceable. Meanwhile, the manhunt goes on.