The industrial city of Liege, Belgium has a history of high crime. But an attack there today, in which a man threw grenades and shot into crowds of commuters and shoppers, killing four people and injuring more than 100, according to USA Today, has stunned a country unaccustomed to such mass violence.
A gunman threw grenades and shot into crowds of commuters and shoppers, trageting an area near the city's Christmas market, bus station, and main courthouse. The attacker is believed to be 33-year-old Nordine Amrani, who shot himself in the head after his rampage sent bystanders fleeing into nearby buildings, say witnesses who spoke with RTL.be. (French language.)
Mr. Amrani was reportedly released early from prison this year because his crimes – which included possession of drugs and firearms – did not comprise of violence. Amrani was supposed to be present for a police hearing this morning, according to The Guardian, but did not arrive for his appointment.
Amrani was originally sentenced in 2008 to three to just under five years in prison and fined €11,000, according to the Belgian paper Le Soir. The weapons in his possession at the time included an AK47 and a rocket launcher, reported Le Soir. Armani refused to comment on the origin and destination of these sophisticated weapons at the time of his conviction.
Carrying a firearm in plain view in a public place is allowed in Belgium, subject to the possession of a permit, according to the United Nations 1999 study on international firearm regulation. Permission for a permit, however, is granted only if the applicant satisfies a long list of conditions, including not being under an ongoing permit suspension. Permit applicants must also demonstrate a legitimate reason for the acquisition of the weapon and ammunition, and the weapon must correspond to the reason for which it is requested, according to Belgium law.
Amrani was armed with grenades, an automatic pistol, and an automatic rifle today, which he concealed in a bag. He reportedly climbed above a bakery and began his attack at 12:30 p.m. local time. “He has no history of terrorist acts,” said prosecutor Daniele Reynders in a news conference in Liege. Officials believe Amrani acted alone.
Belgium’s King Albert and Queen Paola traveled to Liege this afternoon to express their condolences to families and victims of the attack. “There are no words to describe this tragedy,” said Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. “Our thoughts go out to the innocent victims of this tragedy…. The entire country shares their pain.”