United Kingdom

Body of fugitive far-right soldier apparently found in Belgium

Belgian police say the body of a fugitive far-right soldier who was the target of a huge manhunt appears to have been found Sunday.

Hundreds of security forces scoured a swath of northeast Belgium after the May 17 disappearance of Jurgen Conings, who was on an anti-terrorism watch list, had threatened a top virologist involved in the country's Covid-19 program and had hoarded heavy weaponry.

A body was found Sunday by people walking in the woods near the town of Dilsen-Stockem. 

Belgian Mayor of Maaseik, Johan Tollenaere talks to the press at the Dilserbos, a forest area of Hoge Kempen National Park in Dilsen-Stokkem, after a body was found on June 20

In this Friday, May 21, 2021 file photo, Belgian military ride in a convoy at the entrance of the National Park Hoge Kempen during a manhunt for an armed soldier in Maasmechelen, Belgium. Belgian police say the body of a fugitive far-right soldier who was the target of a huge manhunt appears to have been found Sunday, June 21 in a wooded area

Initial evidence indicates it is Conings and that he killed himself, but further examination is underway, Belgian federal police said in a statement.

Conings, 46, had hidden anti-tank missile launchers and other heavy arms in an army barracks before disappearing. 

He had threatened several people in recent months, including the virologist, and landed on the federal anti-terrorism watch list in February.

Conings had a three-decade career behind him as an expert marksman before he started making threats and racist remarks on Facebook. 

He was handed disciplinary sanctions but still allowed to work with weapons.

Corporal Jurgen Conings was feared to have drawn up a hit-list of 10 potential targets. 

Jurgen Conings was on an anti-terrorism watch list, and had threatened a top virologist involved in the country's Covid-19 program and had hoarded heavy weaponry

According to local media, investigators increased the security for 10 people thought to be on the man's hit-list after they read letters left by the fugitive for his partner before he disappeared last month, sparking fears that he drew up a hit-list. 

One of Belgium's most well-known coronavirus experts Marc Van Ranst - who has been behind many of the country's covid decisions - was taken to a police safe house along with his family after Conings took the arsenal of heavy weapons.

There were also reports that Conings had looked up Mr Van Ranst's address and had even been loitering outside of his house for a few hours on the evening of his disappearance.

A lawyer involved in Conings' divorce and his ex-wife are also both under police protection, according to the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper.

Senior figures in the country's military - which disciplined Conings for his political views last year - had been given extra security, as has Ludivine Dedonder, who is Belgium's defence minister.

Security measures have also been implemented at Mosques and asylum centres in the Belgium province of Limburg, Flanders, since the soldier's disappearance. 

Local media had previously reported that Conings was armed with four anti-tank rocket launchers, a machine gun and a pistol, allegedly stolen from his barracks. He was also thought to be wearing a bulletproof vest.

He also reportedly withdrew €3,000 - the full contents of his bank account - before he abandoned his car on May 18 at a national park in Limburg, which is close to Belgium's border with The Netherlands. 

The rocket launchers were later recovered from the boot of the car, but there was no signs of the fugitive and former sniper who joined the army in 1992 served in Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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