Belgian army joins hunt for far-right soldier in forest

·1-min read

By Marine Strauss

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Belgian army helped comb a forest on Thursday in search of a heavily armed soldier with far-right views who disappeared three days ago, authorities and media said.

The federal prosecutor said that 46-year-old Jurgen Conings went missing after he had made threats against Belgian institutions and celebrities, but did not give details.

The case has gripped Belgians and dominated headlines since weapons including anti-tank rocket launchers and ammunition taken from a military base were found in Conings' abandoned car near Dilsen in west Belgium.

Local media said the army deployed armoured vehicles and demining equipment to assist police already hunting him in the 12,000-hectare Hoge Kempen park of woodland, lakes and dunes.

A highway through the area was closed.

The Belgian government said earlier this week that Conings was on a list of potential terrorists due to far-right tendencies.

"The question is how someone active in the defence service - who is on a security list as a person with extremist ideas and who has already made threats - gained access to weapons and was able to take them away," Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belga news agency.

Local media linked Conings to Marc van Ranst, a COVID-19 expert supportive of vaccines and social restrictions who has advised the Belgian government during the coronavirus pandemic.

Van Ranst told Belga that he had lodged a complaint after death threats were made against him on the website of the Viruswaanzin (Virus Insanity) organisation, a group that has held protests against COVID-19 curbs. The virologist said he and his family had been moved to a safe location.

(Reporting by Marine Strauss; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)