Body found in Belgium is likely missing rogue soldier

A body found on Sunday in eastern Belgium is probably that of a soldier suspected of extreme-right views who went missing after stealing arms from a military base and threatening public figures, prosecutors said.

“According to the first elements of the investigation, it is Jurgen Conings,” a statement said.

“The cause of death is probably, according to initial findings, attributable to suicide by firearm,” the statement added, though this would be confirmed at a later date.

Hundreds of police and army personnel were deployed last month on the hunt for Conings, 46, after his abandoned vehicle was found in the area near the Dutch border with four rocket launchers inside. 

Conings, who reportedly served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, was believed to remain armed and dangerous after he was suspected of stealing weapons from a military base where he worked as an instructor.

The discovery was first reported after a town mayor on Sunday said he had found the body during a bike ride in a forest near where Conings’s car had been found last month. 

“During my mountain bike tour this morning, in a part where few people come, I smelled a strong corpse odour,” Johan Tollenaere of the nearby town of Maaseik told VRT news.

“I immediately thought of Jurgen Conings and notified the police. They found the body,” he said.

The manhunt dominated newspaper headlines in the country, with some labelling Conings the “Belgian Rambo” after the 1980s action film starring Sylvester Stallone.

Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said security services had searched the right region, “but it concerned a very large zone”.

The body “was found just outside that search zone,” he told VTM news.

Federal police quickly cordoned off the area and the army’s bomb squad joined the scene along with explosive-detection dogs, VRT news said. 

– ‘Sad news’ –

Among the people Conings had 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.

With Conings still at large, Van Ranst and his family had been moved to an undisclosed location. 

“My thoughts go out to the relatives and children of Jurgen Conings. For them this is very sad news, because they lose a father, a relative or a friend,” Van Ranst tweeted.

The affair has been an embarrassment for the government as it was later revealed that Conings was on a watch list for his far-right views and had access to weapons. 

He also drew support online with Facebook shutting down a page supporting Conings, which had garnered 45,000 members in just a few days.

Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder decried the online backing for the fugitive — condemning in particular support coming from within Belgium’s armed forces. 

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