Jurgen Conings, the extremist soldier nicknamed “Belgian Rambo” after evading capture by special forces while on the run with four stolen rocket launchers, was probably dead for almost all of the five week national manhunt launched to bring him in.
Conings, 46, a sniper who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, abandoned his car near a national park in Flanders on May 18, as the country moved to its highest terror alert and guarded military barracks and mosques.
Special forces with helicopter support repeatedly searched 12,000 hectares of pine forests and heathland in the Hoge Kampen park in the days and weeks that followed in a hunt that cost at least £556,530.
One major military operation involving 600 troops, including Dutch and German soldiers, failed to find Conings, who became a hero for anti-vaccination campaigners and had made death threats against Belgium’s most famous coronavirus expert Marc Van Ranst.
In the end, Conings’ decomposing body was found by accident in the Hoge Kempen park on June 20, after a passing hunter noticed a strong smell.
A pedometer app on his mobile phone showed he had only walked 800 steps on May 18, which has led prosecutors to believe he killed himself soon afterwards.
“More than likely, he took his own life in the first few days after his disappearance,” said prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw.
The body was just 150 meters away from where 220 soldiers had recently stopped searching. Analysis of fly larvae and decomposition were unable to pinpoint his exact date of death, due to highly variable temperatures over the period he was missing.
The corporal, who was on a far-Right terror watch list, had fled with a cache of weapons taken from a barracks after leaving letters in which he declared he no longer wanted to live in a society ruled by “politicians and virologists” and would joint “the resistance”.
Conings withdrew his life savings of about £2,500 and drew up a hit list of potential targets, including Mr Van Ranst, who was rushed to a police safehouse where he was kept for weeks.
Sightings of Conings were reported, calls on him to give up issued, and security concerns around visits to Brussels by EU leaders and Joe Biden reported when the fugitive was almost certainly already dead.