Gunman armed with grenades lays siege to Belgian city

A gunman shot dead three people at a busy central square during a Christmas market in the Belgian city of Liege on Tuesday and then killed himself, a justice official said.

More than 75 people were injured in the attack, some of them seriously, Liege’s prosecutor told a news conference. As well as firing from a rifle, the gunman also threw explosives, officials and witnesses said.

Gaspard Grosjean, a journalist for a local Liege newspaper, was in the square moments after the attack.

“We saw people with bullet wounds in their shoulders, their hands,” he said, adding that he had seen one dead body. “I see people completely scared, people are crying, everyone is on their phones.”

The gunman, named as Nordine Amrani (33) began his attack near a bus stop at Place Saint Lambert, a central shopping area and the site of the city’s annual Christmas market and its main courthouse.

He ended by shooting himself in the head with a handgun, witnesses said.

No clear motivation
It was not immediately clear what motivated the attack in Liege city but interior ministry official Peter Mertens said it did not involve terrorism. He said the assailant died but did not say how that had happened. The daily La Meuse newspaper said the unidentified attacker killed himself.

Earlier media reports had said as many as three men had launched the midday attack, which left blood splattered across the cobblestone streets of a central square in Liege where people were doing Christmas shopping.

Footage from the scene showed people, including a large group of children, fleeing down the streets of the city centre — some still carrying shopping bags. Ambulances and police vehicles descended on the area in eastern Belgium.

As police helicopters and ambulances raced to the scene, the Belgian public broadcaster VRT reported that residents were ordered stay in their homes or seek shelter in shops or public buildings.

‘Our lives were in danger’
Another broadcaster, Radio Television Belge Francophone, said all buses had been asked to leave the city centre and all shops in the area were closed — some with many customers stranded inside.

A medical post was set up in the courtyard of the palace of the Prince Bishops courthouse at the site. Emergency medical teams were called in from as far away as the Netherlands, Mertens said.

VRT Radio spoke with Herve Taveirne from the courthouse into which he had fled to escape the gunfire.

“We were in the courthouse building and were just leaving when we saw someone toss a grenade,” Taveirne said. “I grabbed a little boy … and took him back into the courthouse. Outside the building I heard shooting … Our lives were in danger. This man was shooting in any direction. We ran for our lives at that point.”

The television channel La Une said the attack included the assailant opening fire with a Kalashnikov automatic weapon on a bus in the areas.

‘Someone threw grenades’
New reports said the attack began at about 12:30pm when the man lobbed several grenades at the bus shelter in Place Saint-Lambert, a busy downtown square.

The reports said witnesses reported four explosions and gun fire.

An unidentified man who was wounded in the attack told Belgium’s VRT television network that “someone threw grenades and fired shots”.

Valerie Schaaps, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office in Brussels, confirmed there had been explosions and gunfire, causing injuries.

Place Saint-Lambert is a busy crossroads. Every day 1 800 buses serve the square, which leads to downtown shopping streets. The Place Saint-Lambert and the nearby Place du Marche host the Liege’s annual Christmas market which consists of 200 retail cabins and attracts some 1.5-million visitors a year. — Sapa, AP, Reuters

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