Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Man shoots Christmas shoppers in Belgium, kills three
By Ben Deighton
LIEGE, Belgium (Reuters) - A man hurled grenades at a bus stop in the Belgian city of Liege and sprayed gunfire at a square crowded with Christmas shoppers and children Tuesday, killing three people and wounding 123 others before fatally shooting himself in the head.
It was not clear what his motive was, but Belgian officials said there was no indication it was an act of terrorism.
Witnesses said the gunman, named as Nordine Amrani, 33, began his attack near the bus stop at Place Saint Lambert, a shopping area and the site of the Christmas market and main courthouse - sending shoppers scattering to flee the bullets.
Amrani, released from jail about a year ago after being convicted of possessing weapons illegally, ended it by shooting himself in the head with a handgun, the witnesses said.
"He had a bag. He got a grenade out of his bag. He threw the grenade at the bus stop. Then he had a Kalashnikov (rifle). He shot in all directions. Then everyone ran to try to save themselves. Then he got a revolver out and put a bullet in his head," one witness told RTBF radio.
The victims were a 15-year-old boy, who died at the scene, a 17-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman who died in hospital. A justice official said 123 had been wounded.
Liege's mayor, Willy Demeyer, said the two boys had been sitting school exams nearby just before being caught in the attack.
Random killings of this kind are relatively rare events in Belgium. Most recently, in January 2009, a man stabbed to death two infants and a woman and injured 13 at a nursery in the town of Dendermonde.
Gaspard Grosjean, a journalist for a local Liege newspaper, was in the square moments after the attack.
"We saw people with bullet wounds in their shoulders, their hands," he said, adding that he had seen one body. "I see people completely scared, people are crying, everyone is on their phones."
Justice officials said Amrani had been summoned in the morning to appear before police, an appointment he did not make.
He was convicted in 2008 for the illegal possession of arms and for growing cannabis.
"He has no history of terrorist acts," prosecutor Daniele Reynders told a news conference in Liege.
A spokesman for Belgium's crisis response center also said there was no indication that it was a terrorist attack. It was not clear whether Amrani was Belgian.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo expressed horror at the attack and travelled to the city, 90 km (55 miles) east of Brussels. Belgium's king and queen also visited.
The police closed down the city center for a number of hours, with helicopters circling overhead and ambulances arrived from as far away as neighboring the Netherlands.
A museum on the square said it had taken in injured people.
(Additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Rex Merrifield and Matthew Jones)
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