Liège gunman in bloody assault on shoppers and commuters
The lone attacker threw hand grenades and shot into crowds in the Belgian city, leaving three dead
Lizzy Davies, Ian Traynor and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 13 December 2011 17.40 GMT
A lone gunman has brought bloodshed and mayhem to the eastern Belgian city of Liège, killing three people in a frenzied attack during which he lobbed hand grenades and fired an assault rifle into crowds of shoppers and commuters.
The man, named as 33-year-old Nordine Amrani, died after going on the rampage in the Place Saint-Lambert, near the city's bus station, court and Christmas market. Two boys aged 15 and 17 were killed on the spot, while a 75-year-old woman died of her injuries later. A two-year-old child was reported to be in a critical condition in a local hospital, and at least 75 people were injured.
Police said it was not clear whether Amrani, who had served time in jail for offences involving guns and drugs, had killed himself or died accidentally. He had been due to appear for police questioning this afternoon. The prosecutor of Liège, Danièle Reynders, said he had brought the weapons in a rucksack from his home and walked alone to the square in the city centre.
The attack began shortly after 12.30pm Belgian time, when Amrani is believed to have thrown three hand grenades into a bus shelter before opening fire with a revolver and a rifle. The blasts and gunfire spread chaos across the city centre as shoppers ran to safety and police urged those in the area to stay inside while explosives experts searched the area for unexploded grenades.
Blood was left smeared on the cobblestones of the square. Willy Demeyer, the mayor of Liège, said the two teenage victims were school pupils who had just taken exams.
One witness, Dimitri Degryse, was driving past in his delivery van at the time of the attack. He told Belgian radio: "I heard an explosion and I thought there was something wrong with my car. Then a second grenade went off; I saw smoke and heard several shots. People were lying bleeding on the ground. I stopped to help them. We tried to get the wounded off the street as quickly as possible."
Another man, Hervé Taverne, said he had been coming out of the Palais de Justice court when he saw someone throwing a hand grenade. "It all happened so quickly that we ran for our lives. I grabbed a youngster inside, back into the building," he told Belgian radio. "Then after that various wounded were brought in. We heard gunshots outside. Meanwhile we've heard that there were several perpetrators, but we only saw one. We were also told that this was a [prison] escape action."
Initial speculation, spread by local and social media, that the attack was linked to an attempted jail-break and was carried out by three people was subsequently quashed.
Liège, the main francophone city of Belgian's smaller half, Wallonia, was thrown into deep shock and mourning. Kris Peeters, prime minister of the Dutch-speaking bigger half, Flanders, expressed his condolences and sympathy, saying: "On behalf of the Flemish government I would like to express my deepest condolences for the innocent victims, their families and near ones. I hope this senseless act of violence will be punished swiftly."