Belgian security forces were combing a national park on Thursday (May 20) for a soldier accused of extremist views who went missing after taking weapons from a military base and attacking public figures.
Hundreds of police and army troops were sent to search for Jurgen Conings, 46, after his abandoned vehicle was discovered in the field near the Dutch border on Tuesday evening, containing four rocket launchers.
“More than 400 people are sweeping this territory to try to resolve this dangerous situation,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told lawmakers on Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors warned that Conings, who reportedly served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, likely remained armed and dangerous after he was suspected of stealing weapons from a military base where he worked as an instructor.
Following a request from Belgian officials for assistance in the manhunt, the interior ministry announced that German police had arrived in Belgium, without mentioning how many.
Police in the Netherlands told AFP that they were “on alert”
The manhunt dominated the country’s newspaper headlines, with some dubbing Conings the “Belgian Rambo” after the 1980s action film starring Sylvester Stallone.
Authorities previously stated that they had found a letter left behind by the fugitive in which threats were made to the state and public figures.
Among the people Conings has threatened is Marc Van Ranst, a leading virologist who has become a target for conspiracy theorists, Covid-sceptics and the Flemish far-right in Belgium during the coronavirus crisis.
The case raised serious questions for the army over why Conings still had access to weapons despite his record being known to the authorities.
Conings, whose Twitter profile describes himself as a “Belgian Air Force soldier who likes fitness, body building and boxing”, already figured on a list of extremists monitored by Belgium’s anti-terrorist agency.
Officials said he was one of about 30 Belgian military forces with established terrorist sympathies, but he stayed on active service, preparing Belgian soldiers in preparation for deployment on overseas missions.
De Croo told lawmakers that the army wanted to strengthen its “internal controls”
Conings faced penalties from his colleagues in 2020, according to Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder, after posting “racist remarks” and attacks on Facebook.
“There is no place in the military for extremists or fascists,” she stated.