Sunday 11 December 2016

'I heard gunfire and saw a flash as bullet went into my baby's head'

Bruno Waterfield in Liege

Published 15/12/2011 | 05:00

Women light candles at the site of a gun and grenade attack in central Liege yesterday
Women light candles at the site of a gun and grenade attack in central Liege yesterday

The mother of Gabriel Leblonk, the 17-month-old victim of the Liege gunman, described yesterday how her "angel" was hit by a bullet while in her arms.

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Olivia Leblonk said her son had died shortly after being baptised in the hospital where doctors had been forced to give up after spending 10 hours trying to save his life.

On Tuesday morning Mrs Leblonk had decided to go to the centre of Liege for the opening of the city's Christmas fair, with Gabriel and her husband Romuald.

"We wanted to spend a nice time Christmas shopping with the child," she said. "Romuald handed me the baby when I got off the bus. So I had him in my arms when I heard a sound of gunfire followed by flash of light like lightning. I looked at my child and his eyes returned my look. I screamed. He had been wounded in the back of the head."

The bullet, fired by Nordine Amrani from a military style-assault rifle, was lodged in her baby's head near the neck.

"They could not remove it, it was too risky. They told me he had an hour left. I warned the family. Everyone came to say goodbye," said Mrs Leblonk.

It emerged yesterday that Amrani (33) killed a 45-year-old cleaning lady before carrying out his grenade and assault rifle attack that killed three people. The prosecutor's office said a post-mortem examination was under way to determine if the woman had been raped.

Amrani's lawyers said that he made the attack because he knew that he was going to be sent back to prison and had a "grudge against society".

Immoral

The Belgian, of Moroccan origin, was on parole and feared being arrested and returned to prison because his car number plate had been seen at the scene of an "immoral act".

With previous convictions and jail terms for possession of arms, he would have known that the police would raid his properties, where he had collected a new weapons stash.

"He feared being returned to prison. He called me twice on Monday afternoon and on Tuesday morning about it," said Jean-Francois Dister, his criminal defence lawyer in Liege.

Justice authorities face questions because Amrani was released two years early from jail on arms and drugs charges last year. His release involved plea bargaining and partial acquittal for an illegal armoury of dozens of weapons.

"A person like that needs to be followed more closely. We have to toughen the penalties on illegal gun possession," said Annemie Turtelboom, Belgium's justice minister.

Amrani shot himself in the face with his pistol after he had hurled three grenades and sprayed shoppers with rounds from his FN-FAL assault rifle.

Before carrying out the attack, Amrani transferred cash to his fiancee's account with the words "I love you, my love. Good luck". His wife-to-be was Perrin Balon, a social care nurse who paid the bills on the warehouse where the cleaner was found. She is now in hiding with her family after being interviewed by police.

Amrani grew up in foster homes in Brussels after being orphaned at an early age, according to his lawyer Abdelhadi Amrani, who is not a relative. She dismissed any possible terrorist motives.

"He did not speak a word of Arabic and was not Muslim," she said. "This was the cry for help of a tormented soul estranged from justice, and against society."

Amrani was due to attend a police interview late on Tuesday morning but never showed up. Instead he drove to Place Saint Lambert. He went to a 15ft-high walkway above a bus stop where lunchtime shoppers were gathering for the market. From there he threw three grenades and opened fire.

A 15-year-old boy, Mehdi Belhadj, died instantly while Gabriel and Pierre Geronville (both 17) died in hospital. Five people are still critically wounded, including a 75-year-old woman.

Passers-by laid flowers in the bus shelter yesterday. "Everyone comes here, it could have been me, anyone," said Christine Collard (16). (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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