Liege killer Nordine Amrani murdered four people and wounded 125 others because he feared being sent to back to prison for a sex crime, his lawyer said today.
The 32-year-old convicted criminal, who was due to marry his long-term girlfriend, used grenades and a semi-automatic rifle to cause carnage in the Belgian city before turning a revolver on himself.
Among his victims was a 45-year-old cleaning lady whom he shot dead near his home on Tuesday morning, as well as a 17-month old baby boy who died in the early hours today.
Defence lawyer Jean-Francois Dister said Amrani, a Belgian from a Moroccan background, was on parole and was due to answer a summons about allegedly ‘sexually molesting’ a young woman.
He is thought to have attacked the unnamed victim after driving alongside her in his van. Its number plate was captured by CCTV.
One of Amrani’s numerous previous convictions was for rape, for which he had been given a two-year suspended sentence in 2003.
If convicted again for a sex crime, he would have had to serve it.
This would have also meant his girlfriend, a nurse called Perrin Balon, finding out about the sex allegations against him.
‘He feared being returned to prison,’said Mr Dister. ‘He called me twice on Monday afternoon and on Tuesday morning about it.
‘What worried him most was to be jailed again. According to my client it was a set-up by people who wanted to harm him. Mr Amrani had a grudge against the law.
‘He thought he had been wrongfully convicted.’
After Tuesday’s attack, the bag Amrani used to carry his haul of weapons was found to still contain several loaded magazines, as well as a number of live grenades.
An enquiry has been launched into why he had not been under closer supervision while on bail after early release from a sentence of nearly five years.
His weapons were confiscated because of his other criminal offences, yet he managed to obtain a FAL Belgian assault rifle, grenades and other weapons soon after his release in October 2010.
Belgian’s notoriously liberal criminal justice system is already facing questions as to why, in October 2010, the killer had been released from prison three years early after being convicted of firearms and drug offences.
In 2008 he had been found guilty of keeping 10 complete firearms, and an astonishing 9,500 gun parts in his flat, along with 2,800 cannabis plants nearby.
On Tuesday morning, Amrani is thought to have tried to rape the woman cleaner in his flat, where police had found an arsenal of weapons including a rocket launcher, AK47 and Kalashnikov.
Police said he killed her ‘with a bullet to her head’ and then dumped her body in a lock-up shed where he was growing cannabis plants.
He then left money for Ms Balon, with a note that said: ‘Good luck! I love you.’
A police source said: ‘The cleaner had been working in a neighbour’s home. It appears that Amrani had invited her into his own flat to discuss the possibility of cleaning his flat.
‘There were signs of a struggle, and it may be that Amrani had tried to rape her.
‘Whatever happened, she was undoubtedly his first murder victim on Tuesday morning.’
Cedric Visart Bocarme, the Belgian Attorney General, confirmed that the woman ‘would have been murdered by the killer just before he went to Place Saint-Lambert’.
The attack brought horror to Belgium’s fifth largest city, with crowds of shoppers, many of them children, screaming and running in panic as grenades exploded and shots rang out.
Among the dead was an 18-month-old girl who lost her fight for survival in hospital last night.
The others killed include a 15-year-old boy, a 17-year-old student and a 75-year-old woman.
Today, a small crowd gathered at the Place Saint-Lambert for a minute’s silence at 12noon, 24 hours after the shooting.
Students at the Saint Barthelemy High School–attended by two of the victims–also joined hands and observed the silence.
Abdelhadi Amrani, another lawyer who worked for the killer but is not related, said he had grown up in foster homes after being orphaned as a child.
‘I remember a man deeply marked by the loss of his parents,’ said Ms Amrani. ‘He lost his father and mother very early. He was marked by fate.
‘I would add he was a very smart boy, gifted.
‘Nordine often spoke of his desire to start a family. He was to be married to a nurse in Liege.’
Commenting on Amrani’s background, Ms Amrani said: ‘He did not feel at all Moroccan. He did not speak a word of Arabic, and was not Muslim. What he said is that he felt like a Belgian.
‘He was crazy about weapons, but as a collector.
‘He felt he had not had much luck in life and felt unfairly treated by the courts.
‘This was the fed-up cry of a tormented soul–he was estranged from justice, and against society.’
A 17-month-old baby boy called Gabriel became the fourth victim after dying in hospital late on Tuesday night despite undergoing hours of emergency treatment.
Gabriel was in the arms of his mother when he was hit by a bullet in the back of the head. The child and his parents were at the bus stop just below the walkway from where Amrani opened fire.
Amrani had been due to attend a police interview in the late morning but never showed up.
Instead he left his apartment armed with a Belgian-made FN- FAL automatic rifle, a handgun and up to a dozen grenades carried in a backpack.
He drove the five-minute journey from his 1930s apartment building the Residence Belvedere and parked his white van in Place St Lambert.
He walked on to a raised walkway above a bus stop where lunchtime shoppers were thronging for the opening of a Christmas market.
From his 15ft high vantage point he lobbed three hand grenades towards a busy bus shelter before opening fire on the crowd. A 15-year-old boy died instantly while the baby of 17 months and a 17-year-old boy succumbed to their injuries in hospital.
Five people are still fighting for their lives, including a 75-year old woman who was initially declared dead on arrival at hospital.