Fugitive Belgian soldier Jürgen Conings found dead

Heavily armed extremist had threatened to kill high-profile virologist.

Fugitive Belgian soldier Jürgen Conings found dead

Belgian police believe a body found Sunday in woodland near the Dutch border is that of fugitive soldier Jürgen Conings, a far-right militant reported to be heavily armed who had been on the run for weeks after threatening to kill health experts and politicians. 

Conings disappeared on May 17 with weapons taken from military barracks where he was stationed, including a rocket launcher, machine gun and several grenades. He left messages for his wife and police laying out his assassination plans and singling out the country’s best-known virologist Marc Van Ranst as a target.

“The threat was very real,” Van Ranst told the BBC earlier this month, from a safe house where authorities had moved him and his family.  

Police on Sunday said the cause of death appeared to be suicide from a firearm, but that was not yet confirmed. The body was found in the Dilserbos woodland in the eastern municipality of Dilsen-Stokkem.

“My thoughts go out to the relatives and children of Jürgen Conings,” Van Ranst tweeted on Sunday. “For them this is very sad news, because they lose a father, a relative or a friend.” 

In an interview with De Morgen, the virologist said there was a sense of “relief,” especially for his 12-year-old son. 

As police led a massive manhunt, Conings became a hero among anti-lockdown campaigners and right-wing extremists.  

Tens of thousands rallied online to back him, with the Facebook group “I love Jürgen Conings” gathering up to 50,000 members before being taken down. Fans gathered for marches, holding banners such as “Jürgen’s life matters” and “As 1 behind Jürgen.” 

Coning’s body was discovered by Johan Tollenaere, mayor of the neighboring municipality of Maaseik, while out cycling in a group. Tollenaere told VTM Nieuws he believed the body was in an advanced state of decomposition, reported De Morgen.