Career soldier Jürgen Conings, who has been at the heart of a nation-wide search for over one week, is no resistance fighter, hero, or victim, Chief of Defence Michel Hofman said on Tuesday.
Hofman added that Conings’ actions were “completely at odds with what Defence stands for,” and that he “deeply regrets that a part of our population is portraying Conings as a resistance fighter or hero, which he is certainly not.”
“I share the public’s outrage at the events surrounding Conings, and will admit that mistakes have been made by the Ministry,” Hofman said during a press conference.
Extremist views such as those held by Conings, as well as sexism and racism, have no place in Belgium’s Defence Ministry, Federal Minister of Defence Ludivine Dedonder said.
She added that she will proactively help the ongoing inquiry into how the Ministry dealt with the Conings incident and the mistakes that were made in the previous months.
“The priority now is to support the investigative tasks requested by the prosecutor, but the defence ministry must focus on the causes that allowed this spiral to begin,” she said.
On Tuesday morning, Dedonder called a meeting for all Defence Ministry staff to debrief them on what is expected from them and what steps will be taken to avoid extremism festering among other staff.
Dedonder confirmed the reports from Sunday that 11 soldiers have been denied access to the arms depots and have been taken off any duties that involve using weaponry, following investgations by the military intelligence service Adiv.
She added that their security clearance, which gives access to classified information, has also been withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the intelligence services are also watching the Facebook group in support of Conings, which has almost 50,000 members, specifically to check whether people who work in one of the security departments are among them.
Hofman also explained that little information about Conings and the hunt for the career soldier were being kept quiet to “protect the lives of his family, friends and colleagues pending the internal investigation,” adding that he hoped this case can be closed quickly and without casualties.”
Both Dedonder and Hofman emphasised that the screening and reviewing process both of new and current staff within the Defence Ministry will be optimised, and that the renewal of security clearances, the procedures for access to heavy weapons and the prevention of extremist views spreading throughout the Ministry will be reconsidered in light of the investigation.
The inspector general is now investigating certain parts of the incident such as the communication and info flow of the information around Conings, and the first conclusions of the inquiry will be reache this afternoon, ahead of the parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
You can find a timeline with our coverage on the search for Jürgen Conings here.