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Belgian manhunt on for soldier who threatened virologist

May 19, 2021

Belgian authorities are looking for a soldier who is reportedly on the run with a rocket launcher. The man is a suspected far-right extremist accused of threatening public figures, including a renowned virologist.

A Belgian police helicopter flying above a forest on May 19
A police helicopter searches for a heavily armed solider over the Dilserbos forestImage: James Arthur Gekiere/dpa/BELGA/picture alliance

Belgian authorities on Wednesday were carrying out a manhunt for a soldier who had made threats to prominent virologist Marc Van Ranst and a number of other people.

The soldier, who was identified in media reports as a 46-year-old, was reported to have taken a rocket launcher, a machine gun, body armor, and a pistol from a barracks at Peutie, north of Brussels.

Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told Belgian VTR television on Tuesday evening the fugitive soldier posed an "acute threat" and has been listed by Belgium's anti-terrorism agency OCAD because of his extreme views.

According to the Brussels-based newspaper De Morgen, the man had left behind a farewell letter insinuating he was going to "join the resistance and may not survive."

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The Brussels Times newspaper said that police and an army bomb disposal unit had checked the suspect's abandoned vehicle found near the Dilserbos forest in northeast Belgium near the Dutch border.

The vehicle was found with "four anti-tank rocket launchers and some munition," the Belgian federal prosecutor's office told AFP news agency.

Prosecution spokesman Eric Van Duyse told AFP that the elusive soldier was "well trained" and had ideas associated with the "extreme right."

The man's Twitter profile described him as a "Belgian Air Force soldier who likes fitness, body building and boxing"

Virologist moved to safety

Van Ranst, an avid social media user who last year became a target of COVID-sceptics and anti-mask advocates from the Flemish far right, has been moved to a safe location along with his family.

Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst
Virologist Marc Van Ranst has become a public figure in Belgium during the pandemic Image: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga/dpa/picture alliance

On Wednesday, he posted on Twitter: "Let one thing be clear: Such threats do not make an impression on me."

"Being against COVID measures and COVID vaccines too often coincides with glorification of violence and raw racism. I am not surprised that threats come almost exclusively from that quarter," he added.

In August last year, Van Ranst said a man had made threats toward him at a train station, and posted two photos of the individual in a now-deleted tweet, the Brussels Times reported. Police later opened an investigation into the incident.

ipj/nm (AFP, AP)