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|Part of Les Années de plomb|
Gendarmerie-distributed poster with the likenesses of the gang's members
|Location||Brabant (mostly), also in East Flanders, Hainaut, and Namur, Belgium. On one occasion, in the town of Maubeuge, France.|
|Date||31 December 1981–|
9 November 1985
|Target||Delhaize grocery stores, arms and other retailers, motorists, etc.|
|Serial killing, mass shootings, robberies|
|Weapons||Two riot guns (possibly Winchester 1200s and/or a Franchi SPAS 12|
One .45 Ingram MAC 10 submachine gun
7.65mm Ortgies Semi-Automatic Pistol
|Deaths||28 (including a Belgian communal policeman and a gendarme)|
|Injured||22 (including 2 French gendarmes, 2 Belgian communal police officers, and a Belgian gendarme)|
|Perpetrators||Alleged to have been career criminals and off-duty gendarmes associated with the far-right Westland New Post and/or VMO|
No. of participants
|4 to 10 (according to Jean Depretre, the case's former lead prosecutor)|
|Inquiry||Various prosecutor-led investigations and a later parliamentary inquiry|
|Accused||None living are known to be under investigation.|
|Website||https://bendevannijvel.com (Belgian Federal Police-operated)|
The Brabant killers, also named the Nijvel Gang in Dutch-speaking media (Dutch: De Bende van Nijvel), and the mad killers of Brabant in French-speaking media (French: Les Tueurs fous du Brabant), are believed to be responsible for a series of violent attacks that mainly occurred in the Belgian province of Brabant between 1982 and 1985. A total of 28 people died and 22 were injured. The actions of the gang, believed to consist of a core of three men, made it Belgium's most notorious unsolved crime spree. The active participants were known as The Giant (a tall man who may have been the leader); the Killer (the main shooter) and the Old Man (a middle aged man who drove). The identities and whereabouts of the "Brabant killers" are unknown, and although significant resources are still dedicated to it, the most recent arrests in the case were of the now-retired original senior detectives. Failure to catch the gang resulted in a parliamentary inquiry. There have been many theories of ulterior motives behind the crimes.
Overview of crimes attributed to the gang
- December 31: Burglary at a Gendarmerie barracks in Etterbeek. Theft of automatic weapons, ammunition, and a car. Some of these items were later allegedly recovered in a garage belonging to Madani Bouhouche.
- March 13: Theft of a 10-gauge fowling shotgun at a store in Dinant, Belgium. Two men were seen running away.
- May 10: Theft at gunpoint of an Austin Allegro. One of two such instances in which the Killer was seen without a mask, he spoke French apparently as a first language, with the inflection of an educated man. The car was almost immediately dumped; Theft of a Volkswagen Santana from a car showroom.
- August 14: Armed robbery of a grocery store in Maubeuge, France. Food and wine were stolen; while the goods were being loaded into a vehicle, two French police officers came on the scene. Both were shot and seriously wounded.
- September 30: Armed robbery of a weapons dealer in Wavre, Belgium. Fifteen firearms were stolen, including sub-machine guns. A policeman was killed at the scene; two others were shot and seriously wounded later.
- December 23: Armed robbery of a restaurant in Beersel, Belgium. Coffee and wine were stolen. The caretaker was tortured and killed.
- January 28, The theft of a Peugeot at gunpoint.
- January 9: Cab robbery and murder in Brussels; the car was found in Mons, Belgium. The taxi driver was killed.
- February 11: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Rixensart, Belgium. Less than $18,000 was stolen. Several people were wounded; no one was killed.
- February 22. An Audi 100 with bullet holes from the February 11th incident was stolen from a commercial garage where it was being repaired, but quickly abandoned.
- February 25: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Uccle, Belgium. Less than $16,000 was stolen. No one was killed.
- March 3: Armed robbery and murder at a supermarket in Halle, Belgium. Less than $18,000 was stolen. One supermarket-staff member was killed.
- May 7: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Houdeng-Gougnies, Belgium. Less than $22,000 was stolen. No one was killed.
- September 10: Armed robbery and murder at a textile factory in Temse, Belgium. Seven bullet-proof jackets were stolen. A worker was killed and his wife severely wounded. The firm had recently began been manufacturing the jackets (for the police) which was not widely known.
- September 17: A couple were murdered in the early hours after stopping their Mercedes at a 24-hour self-service gas station beside a store that the gang was burgling. Despite the alarm going off, the gang took the time to load twenty kilos of tea and coffee and 10 liters of cooking oil. Two gendarmes responding to the alarm were shot as they arrived on the scene; one was killed, the other seriously wounded. The gang escaped in the Saab turbo stolen on February 22 and the murdered couple's Mercedes. After shooting up a police car that began following them, the gang used a little-known minor road to get away in the Saab, after unsuccessful attempts to destroy the car by shooting the petrol tank, they left it near to the garage from which the Audi had been stolen (also linked to the VW hijacked in 1982, and close to the Delhaize supermarket that would be attacked on September 27, 1985. Investigators believe that the repeated propinquity may indicate that some members lived in the area. Potentially crucial evidence collected from the Saab 'disappeared'.
- October 2: Armed robbery of a restaurant in Ohain, Belgium. Nothing was stolen. The owner was killed.
- October 7: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Beersel, Belgium. Less than $35,000 was stolen. One customer was killed
- December 1: Armed robbery of a shop in Anderlues and murder of the couple who owned it. About 3000 Euros of jewelry was stolen. The owner's wife was instantly killed without warning as the gang entered, her husband attempted to defend himself with a pistol, but was shot dead. The gang destroyed a surveillance camera recording before leaving. The stolen VW used had fake license plates copied from a legitimately owned VW of the same model that was linked to the garage where the Audi was taken, and where the new VW stolen taken at gunpoint in 1982 was bought.
- September 27: Armed robbery at the Delhaize supermarket on rue de la Graignette in Braine-l'Alleud. Less than $6,000 was stolen. Three people were killed and two wounded. Between 15 and 25 minutes later, there was an armed robbery of the Delhaize supermarket on Brusselsesteenweg in Overijse. Less than $25,000 was stolen. Five people were killed and one wounded.
As a result of these robberies, security was increased at many stores in the region — including armed guards.
- November 9, around 7:30 p.m.: Armed robbery at the Delhaize supermarket on the Parklaan in Aalst. This market was outside the area the gang usually operated in. Their arrival was while an armed patrol that checked the supermarket was still present. A family of four encountered the perpetrators in the parking lot after they left the shop and the mother, father, and daughter were killed apparently motivelessly, the surviving boy from the family ran back into the shop where he was singled out and shot at point blank range, he was very badly wounded in the hip. Less than $25,000 was taken, and eight people were killed with several others seriously injured. Gang members (wearing bizarre face paint and disguises) roared at and taunted customers. They also were reportedly laughing and smiling during the gratuitous shootings, which were done by the "Killer". The robbers did not leave the scene right away after returning to their parked getaway vehicle. The patrol vehicle from Belgium's Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie backed some distance away when shooting started, the municipal police arrived, although many of their cars had refused to start, but mainly remained at an exit of the parking lot that was well away from the gang. The getaway began with the "Giant" walking alongside the getaway car. A policeman fired his revolver at the gang’s VW, which went through an unblocked exit and sped away. Rijkswacht/Gendarmerie vehicles stayed put, but a police van pursued the gang for a few kilometers.
In November 1986, the discovery in a canal of various items and weapons taken or used in the gang’s crimes provided important evidence. A long running dispute erupted over the find, amid assertions that the location was checked in 1985, therefore the weapons could not have been there from before that time and a second search must have been done with guilty knowledge. In 2019, the now-retired officers responsible for ordering the 1986 search were officially questioned on suspicion of manipulating the investigation, but they protested that original search of the canal was not an underwater inspection by frogmen, as they had done in 1986. A Volkswagen Golf car — similar to that used in the getaway — had been found burned out in 1985 in woods relatively close by to the canal, however it was said the condition of the items meant they could not have been immersed since that time.
Method of operation
The items taken and paraphernalia they disposed of seemed to indicate that the gang were shooting enthusiasts involved in drug dealing and burglaries, though combining their criminal activity with daytime jobs such as food preparation, or scrap metal dealer. In this scenario the crimes were largely for material reward and escalated out of bravado. On the other hand, odd elements were also evident:
- Robbery proceeds were modest relative to the extreme risks, and early raids were often amateurish, for example the Giant not wearing gloves, and the Killer and the Old Man allowing themselves to be seen without masks while taking a car at gunpoint.
- The pause in the raids and the killings followed by the escalated resumption in 1985, when a nine year old girl and other bystanders were shot dead for no reason in the parking lot before the gang had even entered the supermarkets.
- Firearms were a particular interest; the 12-gauge pump shotguns used were loaded with a rare buckshot similar to that used by Group Diane. Some policemen thought the gang used tactics in gunfights very similar to those taught on police courses.
- Cars used, often Volkswagens, were stripped of distinctive trim; vehicle modifications including repainting, and indicated a mechanic's facilities and expertise, but also a desire to retain VW parts.
- Getaway routes were well planned and navigated at top speed, but the gang were often still on the scene when armed police arrived.
The gang is believed to have had at least one helper on its last raid. In 1986 weapons that the gang had were found along with bullet proof jackets and other items in a canal about 30 km outside Brussels. The Winchester pump shotguns used in the massacres were never found.
The last gang robbery (despite patrols checking the supermarket every twenty minutes) led to rumors of them having some kind of inside knowledge and possibly complicity by individual gendarmes in the attacks. Nearby Gendarmerie vehicles (which had a semiautomatic FN Uzi in a compartment) did not engage or pursue the gang. The Belgian "stay-behind" network SDRA8 (Gladio) — operating as a secret branch of the Belgian military service — was suggested by some to have links to the gang. Some units of the stay-behind network were made up of members of the Belgian Gendarmerie. One theory was that the communist threat in Western Europe was taken as justifying Operation Gladio being activated. However, the Belgian parliamentary inquiry into Gladio found no substantive evidence that Gladio was involved in any terrorist acts or that criminal groups had infiltrated the stay-behind network.
The Belgian Gendarmerie were abolished in reforms that came partially as a result of a perceived lack of satisfactory performance in the Brabant killers case, and that of Marc Dutroux. The NATO 'Stay Behind' explanation for the Brabant incidents was explored in a 1992 BBC Timewatch series named 'Operation Gladio', directed by Allan Francovich, and based on assertions by Oswald LeWinter who is identified in the documentary as ”Colonel Oswald Le Winter, CIA-ITAC liaison officer, Europe.” In Francovich's 1994 film, The Maltese Double Cross, which blames a failed DEA drug sting for the Lockerbie crash that came after publication of the Joint Task Force report giving LeWinter's recantation of his CIA claims in January 1993, LeWinter is identified as "CIA, 1968-1985." The 1998 Assassination Records Review Board report states, "FBI and CIA files indicate that LeWinter is a well-known fabricator with an interest in intelligence and law enforcement activities who frequently makes claims related to sensational or unusual news events. The records that the Review Board examined did not show that Oswald LeWinter was ever employed by or worked for the CIA in any capacity." The program about Gladio in Belgium centered on a by-then defunct private Belgian far-right organisation named Westland New Post led by Paul Latinus, but although Paul Latinus told subordinates he was working with government agencies along the same lines as Gladio, whether he actually had any official sanction or was lying to make himself seem more important is unknown.
Westland New Post
In 1979, Latinus founded Westland New Post with members of Front de la Jeunesse, a paramilitary far-right group that was investigated after a 1980 incident in which a member shot at a group of North Africans, causing one death and a national outcry. The killer was with a firearms enthusiast who was a friend of Madani Bouhouche, and decades later let him stay in a French property after Bouhouche was released on licence from a life sentence for two murders. The milieu of WNP included a former member (now deceased) of the OAS, and several others from the Front de la Jeunesse who conducted paramilitary firearms training in some of the forested areas that were later used by the Brabant killers. The WNP was a secret organisation. Speculation about a connection to the Brabant killers increased after former WNP members — including the only Gendarmerie — recalled being ordered to covertly surveil and compile a report on security arrangements at Belgian supermarkets of a large chain that was targeted by the killers. WNP had a genuine intelligence operative advising on covert techniques; NATO behind-the-lines units are known to have used the planning of robberies as a training exercise. Michel Libert, the former second-in-command of Westland New Post, admitted passing on Latinus's orders to gather detailed information on supermarkets with a view to robberies, but denied knowing of any purpose to the assignments beyond developing clandestine skills.
Marcel Barbier, an enforcer-type WNP member who lived with Libert, was arrested in August 1983 after a shooting, and became suspected in a double murder at a synagogue a year earlier. Latinus went to police and informed them that Barbier and another WNP member had committed the synagogue murders, and that he (Latinus) had helped Barbier get rid of the murder weapon. This caused dissension within the WNP as Latinus was seen as having betrayed a member of the organisation. Also in 1983 several members of WNP who were in Front de la Jeunesse (Belgium) were convicted of organising it as an illegal militia, and given terms in prison. Leading WNP members were also arrested for unauthorised possession of low-level classified NATO documents. Latinus committed suicide in April 1984, and his followers formed rival cliques. Some theories have connected these facts to the inactivity of the Brabant Killers gang between December 1983 and September 1985, and them having a seemingly intensified grudge against society during the supermarket massacres of 27 September and 9 November 1985.
Barbier was convicted for the synagogue murders. His co-accused, WNP member Eric Lamers, was acquitted of murder but received 5 years for other offences, and in 1991 was convicted of a separate double murder. Lammers fled the country after being accused of a sexual exposure against a child and accessing images of child sex abuse. After he was brought back from Serbia he appeared in a 2014 Belgian TV program in which he accused WNP leaders of being behind the Brabant killings, based on WNP reconnaissance on the supermarket chain whose premises were subjected to the murderous attacks of 1985. Libert was arrested as a suspect soon after the program was broadcast, but released without charge after 48 hours. In 2018 a former subordinate of Libert publicly accused him of being the 'Giant', although without any official reaction. Libert went on television to yet again deny the allegations, and said the accuser had mental health difficulties.
Various conspiracy theories link the killings to political scandals, suggesting they were done to disguise a targeted assassination. In one version, connecting the killings to illegal gun-running mafias and legitimate businesses. A banker by the name of Léon Finné, who was shot by the gang in Overijse, was supposedly targeted deliberately.
Notorious professional criminals, including Patrick Haemers and Madani Bouhouche (both deceased) have been canvassed as likely suspects. Haemers's height made him an apparent fit for the Brabant gang's 'Giant', but his known crimes lacked the gratuitous violence and small-time takings that were the Brabant killers' hallmark.
Bouhouche was an ex Gendarmerie and gun shop owner, who was arrested in 1986 for the murder of a friend who worried that his guns had been used in the Brabant killers crimes, and apparently suspected (correctly) the theft of his firearms collection was the work of Bouhouche. Police found that Bouhouche had anonymously rented garages in which were stored cars, weapons he had stolen in a 1981 burglary of Gendarmerie vehicles in Etterbeek guard station, and false duplicate car plates. Items thought to have been abandoned by the Brabant killers, along with shooting magazines, included several TV remote controls, which could be adapted for triggering explosions. Bouhouche had plotted an outlandish extortion scheme for IED attacks against a supermarket chain years before one supermarket chain was later actually targeted by the Brabant gang. Bouhouche was released in 2000. Following his 2005 death, the discovery that Bouhouche had been working for an ex Westland New Post member and was in possession of a pump action shotgun did little to allay suspicion that he had possessed inside information about the Brabant Killers gang.
In 1983, on the basis of a forensic examination of a weapon, and a witness who said he had seen the Saab hidden, authorities charged the gun owner (a former municipal policeman) and several other men ("Borains") with the Brabant killings. Police said they obtained incriminating statements containing guilty knowledge. The Brabant killers' jewelry shop double murder occurred while the "Borains" accused were in detention. After it was found that a German ballistic experts' report discrediting the main hard evidence against the accused had been suppressed by the prosecutor, charges against the "Borains" were dismissed, and the freed men furiously alleged they had been coerced in abusive 36 hour interrogations, and supplied with details for false confessions. The original "Borains" suspect was unsuccessfully approached for information in 2015.
An initially promising lead for the enquiry concerned a member of a family of Romany origin that was well known in the underworld, who led a group of armed robbers. He was charged with being one of the Brabant Killers and at one point made (later retracted) admission to having participated without his gang in the massacres, but provided no details, and the line of investigation proved fruitless.
The law enforcement agencies hunting the killers made many mistakes during the early years of the investigation, often as a result of rivalries among the various authorities. Among the worst oversights were failure to preserve cars the gang modified and dumped, and loss of items with fingerprints. The original investigating magistrate was criticized for lack of professionalism by mishandling evidence and not considering alternatives to his hypotheses. Publicity about the case and the offer of a substantial reward resulted in a vast number of tips from ordinary Belgians with personal scores to settle, thereby diverting investigative resources from viable suspects.
Current lines of inquiry
Most suspects date back to the beginning of the investigation, and have been repeatedly questioned over the years. New persons of interest in the case have been arrested on the basis of nothing more than drunken ravings and a resemblance to one of the over twenty artists impressions of the perpetrators. The latest was Christiaan Bonkoffsky, ex-Gendarmerie unit Group Diane, who before his alcohol related 2015 death made a confession to being the so called Giant. A riot gun and ammunition basket labelled "Gendarmerie-Politie", were apparently dumped by the Brabant killers (possibly after having been stolen by them). Bonkofsky had already been scrutinised as a potential suspect in 2000, investigators utilising forensic DNA and fingerprints have definitely ruled him out as the Giant.
- "Privacy settings". myprivacy.medialaan.be.
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- Chronologie des faits attribués aux tueurs du Brabant Archived 2014-03-10 at the Wayback Machine page 21–22
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- Financial Times blog, May 10, 2013, Sir Ranulph Fiennes caught trying to rob a bank Archived 2015-03-16 at the Wayback Machine
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- 3 octobre 2014 , Tueries du Brabant: pas d'inculpation de Michel Libert Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
- RTBF Tueries du Brabant: perquisition et interpellation de Michel Libert (WNP) Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine
- (in Dutch) Gazet Van Antwerpen/Belga (2014). "Gewezen lid extreemrechtse groepering ondervraagd over Bende van Nijvel (Former member extreme right group interrogated about Brabant Killers)". Archived from the original on 2018-12-26. Retrieved 2017-06-09.
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Media related to Brabant killers at Wikimedia Commons
- Official website of police investigation
- Chronologie des faits attribués aux tueurs du Brabant page 21–22
- bendevannijvel.com/forum » Forum
- Belgian Chamber of Representatives, parliamentary investigation into the Brabant killers. (in French and Dutch)
- Belgian Chamber of Representatives, parliamentary investigation into banditism. (in French and Dutch)
- Belgian Senate, parliamentary investigation into Gladio (in French and Dutch)
- Belgian Senate, parliamentary investigation into private militias (in French and Dutch)