General Philippe Boucké, head of the military intelligence service, has been dismissed from his post as a result of failings in the affair of Jürgen Conings, defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS) announced.
Army corporal Conings went AWOL from his job on 17 May, having taken heavy weapons from the barracks at Leopoldsburg where he worked. He left behind threatening letters. That led to a major manhunt in the Hoge Kempen National Park, where he had secreted himself.
The search including police and army, air support and contributions from forces in Germany and the Netherlands, which border the region. The fruitless search lasted more than a month.
Then, on 20 June, a hunter accidentally stumbled upon human remains not far from where the search had taken place. They were identified as Conings. He had taken his own life by firearm.
The case raised a number of questions. Conings was one of a group of about 30 military personnel who were being kept under close surveillance by the military intelligence service SGRS because of their far right-wing leanings, it was reported back in March.
In addition, the Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA) singled Conings out as code PGE: a potentially violent extremist, described as “a person with extremist views who has an intention to use violence, but has not yet taken concrete steps to do so.”
“Major General Boucké has used all his energy in the time he has led the service to solve the problems that have been known about for years,” Dedonder said in her statement.
“The complexity of the problems, exacerbated by the events of the past few weeks, have made it impossible for him to succeed in his mission.”
According to the minister, the decision was taken in agreement with the general. However it was clear the Conings affair was going to exact a high price, after two separate reports spoke of “serious faults” in the service and “a pile-up of mistakes”.
As recently as Wednesday, General Boucké was before parliament to explain what went wrong in the Conings story. He explained that he had never heard of Conings before he went AWOL. When it came to the only member of the Belgian military listed by OCAM as a potential terrorist, his staff had not seen fit to inform him.
He will be replaced by Vice-Admiral Wim Robberecht.