Belgian minister urges public to ignore conspiracy theories over soldier’s death
Belgium’s justice minister has appealed to the public to ignore conspiracy theories around the death of Jürgen Conings, the heavily armed soldier whose body was discovered on Sunday a month after he went missing, threatening to kill a high-profile virologist.
Vincent van Quickenborne said he hoped people would focus on the facts of the case following the discovery of the 46-year-old corporal’s body in the Dilserbos woods in the municipality of Dilsen-Stokkem near the Dutch border.
Conings, who is believed to have shot himself, was found by Johan Tollenaere, the mayor of the nearby town of Maaseik, on Sunday morning a few hundred metres from an area searched by soldiers in recent days. Tollenaere had been on a bike ride when he came across the decomposing body.
Conings’ aunt told local media she believed security forces had killed her nephew. “He wouldn’t commit suicide,” she said. “He was killed.”
Van Quickenborne said there would be an investigation into the failure of the search parties to find Conings but that as the hunt went on it had become increasingly likely he had killed himself.
He said: “I also notice that there are conspiracy theories going around … You have to define the search area somewhere. You can’t take the whole of Belgium as your search area.
“The fact that he was found only a few hundred meters away shows that they were in the right place. Don’t forget that this is a forest the size of 24,000 football fields, densely overgrown. The search also had to be done with caution. But as time went on, the suicide hypothesis was increasingly taken into account. After all, he had disappeared a month ago.”
Conings, a specialist marksman, has not been seen since he disappeared on 17 May after taking four anti-tank missile launchers, a submachine gun and a bulletproof vest from his barracks.
Before he disappeared, Conings left letters for his wife and the police in which he made threats to kill Marc Van Ranst, Belgium’s best-known virologist and an adviser to the government on its tough Covid restrictions. Conings, who had close links to the extreme right in Flanders, had been flagged as a “serious threat” to the state three months earlier but military intelligence had failed to respond.
His stated objective of joining “the resistance” against Covid regulations had led some people to voice their support for him during marches near the woods where he was believed to be hiding.
Van Ranst was told on Sunday he could leave a safe house to which he and his family had been moved. He told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper he was “relieved” but that his thoughts were with the dead man’s children.
“For them this is disastrous and that’s not something to make you happy,” he said. “That there were tens of thousands of people behind someone who planned to kill me, that continues to reverberate. I will always remember that more than Jürgen Conings himself.”
Conings was found wearing the bullet-proof vest and carrying an FN 5.7 pistol. A knife and axe were also discovered near the body and the stolen submachine gun was found nearby on Monday. The four anti-tank missile launchers had been recovered from Conings’ abandoned Audi car shortly after his disappearance.