Gunman turns Belgian Christmas market into bloodbath

LIEGE, Belgium, (Reuters) – A lone gunman  brought carnage to the Belgian city of Liege yesterday,  spraying bullets at Christmas shoppers and hurling a grenade at  people waiting for a bus, killing four people including a girl  of 17 months before shooting himself dead.

Rescuers evacuate injured people at the Place Saint Lambert square yesterday. (Reuters photo)

The attack, in which another 125 people were wounded,  paralysed the centre of Belgium’s fifth city, with workers  trapped in offices as police sealed off the area, helicopters  circled, and ambulances poured in from as far away as the  Netherlands.

The man’s motive was unclear but Belgian officials said  there was no indication it was an act of terrorism.

Witnesses said 33-year-old Nordine Amrani had begun his  rampage at about 12:30 p.m. near a bus stop at Place Saint  Lambert, site of Liege’s bustling Christmas market and its main  courthouse. Shoppers scattered to flee the bullets.

Gaspard Grosjean, a journalist for a local newspaper, was in  the square moments after the attack.

“We saw people with bullet wounds in their shoulders, their  hands,” he said, adding that he had seen one body.

“I see people completely scared, people are crying, everyone  is on their phones.”

Amrani was freed from jail about a year ago after a  conviction for possessing weapons and drug offences.

Justice officials said Amrani had been summoned to answer  police questions that morning on an undisclosed matter, but  never turned up.

One witness told RTBF radio: “He had a bag. He got a grenade  out of his bag. He threw the grenade at the bus stop.

“Then he had a Kalashnikov (rifle). He shot in all  directions. Then everyone ran to try to save themselves. Then he  got a revolver out and put a bullet in his head.”

TODDLER DIES        

Police said the dead were two boys of 15 and 17, a  75-year-old woman, and a toddler of just 17 months whom hospital  doctors fought for hours to save.

Liege’s mayor, Willy Demeyer, said the two boys had been  taking school exams nearby just before the attack.

By evening, Place Saint Lambert, whose Christmas market of  around 200 stalls attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year,  was still sealed off, covered with shattered glass and pools of  blood, and there was still no indication of Amrani’s motive.

At his most recent address, an apartment block near the  scene of the attack, Johan Buron said he had been astonished to  learn what his neighbour had done.

“He was calm, every time I met him in the corridor he was  very friendly and said ‘Hi’,” he told Reuters. “If my memory  serves me right, he was a welder.”

Amrani was convicted in 2008 for illegal possession of arms  and for growing a huge field of cannabis. “He has no history of  terrorist acts,” prosecutor Daniele Reynders told a news  conference in Liege.

A spokesman for Belgium’s crisis response centre also said  there was no indication that it had been a terrorist attack. It  was not clear whether Amrani was Belgian.
Prosecutor Cedric Visart de Bocarme told Be
lgian television  that Amrani had been in jail several times since his youth, and  said that police searching his home had not found any further  weapons or suspicious items.
Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo expressed horror at the attack  and travelled to the city, 90 km (55 miles) east of Brussels.  Belgium’s king and queen also visited.
Random killings are rare in Belgium. Most  recently, in January 2009, a man stabbed two infants and a woman  to death and injured 13 at a nursery in the town of Dendermonde.

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