Troops hunting Belgian Rambo find camp as search enters day four

Troops hunting Belgian Rambo soldier find camouflage camp in forest as search for trained sniper who vowed to fight Covid lockdowns to the death enters day four

  • Corporal Jurgen Conings, 46, disappeared from his barracks on Monday after stealing weapons
  • More than 400 Belgian troops, back by German and Dutch special forces have been hunting for the soldier
  • Makeshift camp was discovered in Hoge Kempen National Park but it is not yet clear whether it is connected 

A makeshift camp has been discovered during the hunt for Belgium’s ‘anti-lockdown Rambo’, which entered its fourth day on Friday.

Authorities from three countries are searching for Corporal Jurgen Conings, a heavily-armed soldier who deserted from his barracks on Monday armed with four rocket launchers, a machine gun and a pistol after threatening Marc Van Ranst, the virologist who is leading Belgian’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

More than 400 Belgian troops, backed by German and Dutch special forces, have been combing Hoge Kempen National Park where Conings, 46, was believed to be holed up, using thermal cameras in an effort to locate the experienced soldier.

A raincoat and a camouflage tent were discovered in the 12,000-hectare park on Thursday. Inside the shelter, which was also constructed from branches and plastic tarps, were bottles of water and soda, as well as what appeared to be a cool box. 

Authorities have not confirmed that the shelter belonged to Conings, a trained sniper who joined the army in 1992 and has served in Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Conings was believed to have taken refuge in the park after his car was discovered nearby on Tuesday with the four missile launchers and some ammunition inside. The soldier is also armed with an FN P90 machine gun and a handgun. 


Authorities from three countries are searching for Corporal Jurgen Conings, a heavily-armed soldier who deserted from his barracks on Monday armed with four rocket launchers, a machine gun and a pistol after threatening Marc Van Ranst, the virologist who is leading Belgian’s response to the coronavirus crisis

A makeshift camp has been discovered during the hunt for Belgium’s ‘anti-lockdown Rambo’, which entered its fourth day on Friday

More than 400 Belgian troops, backed by German and Dutch special forces, have been combing Hoge Kempen national park where Conings, 46, was believed to be holed up, using thermal cameras in an effort to locate the experienced soldier

A raincoat and a makeshift hideout were discovered in the 12,000-hectare park on Thursday. Inside the shelter, which was constructed from branches and plastic tarps, were bottles of water and soda, as well as what appeared to be a cool box. Authorities have not confirmed that the shelter belonged to Conings, a trained sniper who joined the army in 1992 and has served in Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan

Local media reported that Conings had booby-trapped his car, by leaving a grenade inside with a wire linking the munition to the car’s doors so it would explode when opened.  

Despite the huge police presence and support from Germany and the Netherlands – which border the search area – there was no sign of Conings as of Friday morning.

‘The sweep did not lead to the discovery of the wanted person,’ federal prosecutor’s office spokesperson Wenke Roggen said on Thursday night.

‘The search continues now, but I cannot elaborate on that.’ 

Roggen confirmed that shots had been heard in the national park on Thursday, saying: ‘Shots were indeed registered yesterday, but we don’t know more about that.’

Conings – who is on a Belgian terror watch list and has been dubbed ‘Rambo’ by local media – has been described as ‘an acute threat’, with the public warned not to approach him but to notify police if he is sighted.

Authorities were alerted after his girlfriend Gwendy, 46, discovered several letters left by Conings, including one to his family saying that he ‘could no longer live in a society where politicians and virologists have taken everything away from us.’

He also warned that he ‘would join the resistance and would not surrender’. 

Conings threatened several figures in the letters including Van Ranst, though it may not have been the first time he has made threats against the virologist.

Last year, Conings was put on desk duty after reportedly tweeting: ‘Who has Van Ranst’s address?’ 

 Conings made threats against Marc Van Ranst, the outspoken virologist who is leading Belgian’s response to the coronavirus crisis [File photo]

Conings was believed to have taken refuge in the park after his car was discovered nearby on Tuesday with the four missile launchers and some ammunition inside. The soldier is also armed with an FN P90 machine gun and a handgun

The leading scientist is an active social media user and his views have made him a target of conspiracy theorists, Covid-sceptics, and the Flemish far-right. 

He has been under armed protection for some time but was put into hiding along with his family when the hunt for Conings began. 

Van Ranst told Flemish outlet De Morgen that he felt well protected but that his young son was missing school. 

When asked whether the incident made him reconsider his outspoken ways, he responded:

‘Absolutely not. Radicalised people from extremist movements, whether or not equipped with rocket launchers, are not going to determine my life in the least.’ 

Yesterday, Van Ranst claimed that Conings had been staking out his home.

‘There were indications that this guy had come to scout the town where I live,’ the virologist said. ‘He spent a number of hours there.’  

Coning’s girlfriend Gwendy, 46, has told local media that all she wants is ‘her tough, sweet teddy bear’ back, describing the soldier as a ‘loving father’ to his two children and her daughter. 

But Gwendy said today she doesn’t recognise Conings as a Rambo-like character nor does she know anything of his anti-lockdown stance. 

Coning’s girlfriend Gwendy, 46, has told local media that all she wants is ‘her tough, sweet teddy bear’ back, describing Conings as a ‘loving father’ to his two children and her daughter

Despite the huge police presence and support from Germany and the Netherlands – which border the search area – there was no sign of Conings as of Friday morning

‘That’s not my Jurgen,’ she told Algemeen Dagblad. ‘I don’t know him like that at all. As far as I know, he had no extremist thoughts. And as far as I know he never threatened Marc Van Ranst.’

She added that he would occasionally swear at the television because of the Covid lockdown rules.

‘But aren’t there a lot of people who swear at that, who are all sick of it? Hand on heart: I have never heard anything about death threats,’ Gwendy added. 

Timeline: Belgium’s coronavirus response

February 4, 2020: First case detected

March 11: First reported death

March 18: First nationwide lockdown begins  

May 4: Lockdown measures begin easing 

May 11: Shops open to the public  

June 8: Cafes and restaurants allowed to open

July 25: Face coverings made compulsory in public indoor spaces and busy outdoor spaces

July 28: Curfew announced for Antwerp province

November 2: Second nationwide lockdown begins

May 8, 2021: Lockdown measures begin easing

 

Van Ranst, who has proposed many of the social distancing measures adopted in Belgium, has been speaking out since the manhunt began and condemning social media ‘trolls’ making threats against him.

The virologist said that ‘being against COVID measures and COVID vaccines all too often coincides with aggression of violence and raw racism. Let one thing be clear: such threats do not make the slightest impression on me.’

On his Twitter profile Conings describes himself as a ‘Belgian Air Force soldier who likes fitness, bodybuilding and boxing’, already featured on a list of extremists monitored by Belgium’s anti-terrorist agency. 

He was one of around 30 Belgian military personnel with known extremist sympathies, officials said, but he remained on active duty, training Belgian troops ahead of deployment on overseas missions.

Army sources told Dutch-language Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws that Conings was ‘an extreme right-wing weapons nut who does not shy away from violence,’ and ‘an antivaxer who hates Van Ranst.’

Flemish outlet De Morgen said Conings’ Facebook profile mentions the Siegrune, the symbol used by the SS during World War II.

Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told Flemish broadcaster VTM it was ‘unacceptable’ that the fugitive had been allowed to access the weapons, and Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder said an inquiry would be launched.

‘The real question is of course: how is this possible?’ De Croo.

‘Someone who has already made threats in the past – that this man within defence has access to weapons and can even take those weapons with him.

‘It is unacceptable.’

Conings’ police wanted notice shows a thick set man with a shaved head. In his Twitter profile, he appears shirtless, revealing his muscular, tattooed torso.

He is 6ft 2in, muscular and was said to be a wearing a dark Timberland T-shirt at the time of his disappearance.

Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told VRT television: ‘There are signs that he is violent and, over the course of the past 24 hours, evidence has emerged that shows this man presents an acute threat.’ 

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