Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Leige Attack: 4 Dead, 123 Hurt

Number of people injured in Liege, a city situated in the Meuse River valley, due to today's attack, now stands at 123 - AP

Belgian prosecutor says death toll in Liege attack is now 4, including 2 teenagers - AP

A gunman has opened fire in the centre of the Belgian city of Liege, killing at least four people and wounding 123.

The man also threw grenades into a crowded square from a rooftop before killing himself, reports say.

He was named as Nordine Amrani, aged 33. He was known to police for firearms offences. Officials said the attacker acted alone, ruling out terrorism.

Medical sources later said two other injured, including a baby girl, had died. This has not been confirmed.

The central square in front of the Palais de Justice remains cordoned off this evening.

The Christmas market is dark and empty, but it was very different this lunchtime. Scores were enjoying a festive shopping experience when the man now named as Nordine Amrani began shooting and throwing explosives. People began running, screaming, children amongst them.

While the 33-year-old attacker was known to the police, having previously faced drug and weapons charges, officers say they currently don't know why he carried out this terrible act.

Amrani was jailed for 58 months in September 2008 for possessing firearms and drugs, media reports said.

Officials did not confirm this, but said they were aware he had spent some time in prison.

Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo, visiting the scene, described the attack as "horrible".

"There are no words to describe this tragedy," he said.

"We think first and foremost of the innocent victims, their family and friends. We also think of all the people working at the scene and more generally of the people of Liege.

"The whole country shares the pain of the families affected. We share the shock of the population."

Belgium's King Albert and Queen Paola also came to pay their respects.

Amrani had been asked to come for an interview at a police station in connection with charges against him.

A resident of Liege, he left home with a rifle, a pistol and three grenades in a bag, prosecutors said.

Greg Ienco, a journalist at local newspaper La Meuse-Liege, described the scene of the attack.

"We saw four explosions. I was in a building 200m from Saint-Lambert Square," he said.

"It was quite incredible. We saw one man on the roof who tried to kill people. This man killed himself with a grenade."

Two of the people confirmed dead were boys aged 15 and 17, the third a 75-year-old woman.

TV images showed blood splattered across the cobblestones of the square.

Several people are reported to be in a serious condition.

Medical staff at a field hospital at the scene treated 52 of the injured. Some others made their own way to other hospitals.

Roads into the centre of Liege were sealed off but vehicles are now coming back into the city.

Explosives experts were called in to search the area for unexploded grenades. People were initially told to stay in buildings but are now returning to the streets.

Place Saint-Lambert is a busy intersection, served by hundreds of buses daily. It hosts an annual Christmas market which attracts some 1.5 million visitors a year.

"Le Quinze Août" celebration takes place annually on August 15 in Outremeuse and celebrates the Virgin Mary. It is one of the biggest folkloric displays in the city, with a religious procession, a flea market, dances, concerts, and a series of popular games. Nowadays these celebrations start a few days earlier and last until the 16th. Some citizens open their doors to party goers, and serve "peket", the traditional local alcohol. This tradition is linked to the important folkloric character Tchantchès (Walloon for François), a hard-headed but resourceful Walloon boy who lived during Charlemagne's times. Tchantchès is remembered with a statue, a museum, and a number of puppets found all over the city.
Liège hosts one of the oldest and biggest Christmas Markets in Belgium.
The Saint Nicholas festival around the 6 December is organized by and for the students of the University; for 24 hours, the students (wearing very dirty lab-coats) are allowed to beg for money for drinking.

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