Brabant killers

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Brabant massacres
Location Brabant, Belgium
Date 13 March 1982 (1982-03-13)-
9 November 1985 (1985-11-09)
Target Retailers
Attack type
Serial killing, mass shootings, robberies
Deaths 28
Non-fatal injuries
40+
Perpetrators Unknown
No. of participants
At least three

The Brabant killers (also the Nijvel Gang (Dutch: De Bende van Nijvel, French: Les Tueurs du Brabant) are believed responsible for a series of violent attacks that mainly occurred in the Belgian province of Brabant between 1982 and 1985. Twenty-eight people died and 40 were injured. It's considered Belgium's most notorious unsolved crime spree.

The gang's trademarks were a) disproportionate and gratuitous violence for relatively small rewards, and b) indifference to the police response. The three most active participants, according to witnesses, were:

  • The Giant (tall man who may have been the leader);
  • The Killer (shot most of the victims);
  • The Old Man (mainly acted as the getaway driver).

The identities and whereabouts of the "Brabant killers" are unknown. One may have been killed after the last known robbery. Failure to catch the gang was a major impetus behind reform of the Belgian police.

There have been many theories about the case and those involved. One says the perpetrators may have been a particularly psychopathic group of criminals without any ulterior motive. A second theory asserts a politically-extreme paramilitary group conducted undercover surveillance on security at some of the targeted supermarkets.


Overview of Crimes Attributed To The Gang[edit]

1982[edit]

  • March 13: Theft of a 10-gauge fowling shotgun at a store in Dinant, Belgium. Two men were seen running away.
  • May 10: Theft of an Austin Allegro; 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.[1]

1983[edit]

  • January 9: Cab robbery in Brussels; the car was found in Mons, Belgium. The taxi driver was tortured and 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 multiple bullet holes (from the February 11th incident) was stolen from a commercial garage where it was being repaired.
  • February 25: Armed robbery of a supermarket in Uccle, Belgium. Less than $16,000 was stolen. No one was killed.
  • March 3: Armed robbery of 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 of a textile factory in Temse, Belgium. Seven bullet-proof jackets were stolen. One worker was killed and his wife severely wounded.
  • September 17: Robbery of a grocery store in Nivelles, Belgium. Twenty kilos of tea and coffee — plus 10 liters of cooking oil — were taken and loaded into a vehicle. Two gendarmes responded to the store's alarm; one was shot and killed, the other seriously wounded. A couple at a nearby 24-hour self-service gas station was also killed. The gang escaped in a Saab turbo and the couple's Mercedes.
  • 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 jeweler in Anderlues, Belgium. Some low-value jewels were stolen. Two people were killed.

1985[edit]

  • 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 15-25 minutes later: Armed robbery of the Delhaize supermarket on Brusselsesteenweg in Overijse was raided. 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.[1]

  • 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. Less than $25,000 was taken; eight people were killed.

During the November 9th incident, gang members (wearing bizarre face paint and disguises) roared at and taunted customers. They shot anyone who looked at them, including children. Witnesses said the shootings were done mainly by the "Killer;" the person justified it as killing witnesses. It appeared, however, that the shootings were gratuitous executions. The robbers did not leave the scene right away after returning to their parked getaway vehicle.

Patrol vehicles from Belgium's then-two police forces arrived before the gang left the Parklaan Delhaize. Most vehicles went to a secondary exit of the parking lot about 100 yards away. The getaway began with the "Giant" walking alongside the getaway car, exchanging shots with a policeman. Police fired more shots as the getaway car sped away. A police van pursued the gang for half a kilometer before stopping the pursuit, losing track of them.

The last sighting of any gang member was November 9th. The person was spotted on a forest road, on the ground, apparently seriously injured.

Decades later, forensic examination at the forest-road site found evidence of a weapon being fired there. Investigators concluded one of the gang — possibly the "Giant" — was executed by his accomplices and buried nearby. The getaway car was later found burned.[1][2][3]

Method Of Operation[edit]

Some evidence police found indicated the gang were professional criminals involved in drugs and burglaries. On the other hand, odd elements were also evident:

  • Robbery proceeds were modest relative to the extreme risks;
  • The killings escalated dramatically in 1985. Bystanders were shot dead in the parking lot before the gang entered the supermarkets; other victims, including children, were shot from as close as a foot away while cowering on floors;
  • Firearms were a particular interest; the 12-gauge pump shotguns used were loaded with a rare, heavy buckshot;
  • Cars used, often Volkswagens, were stripped of distinctive trim; vehicle modifications indicated a mechanic's expertise;
  • The getawaydriver was highly skilled; escape routes were fast and non-obvious, often to forested areas where the cars were burned.

The gang is believed to have had at least one outside helper on its last raid.[1][3][4] The weapons the gang used — as well as others taken from victims — were never found.

Ulterior Motives[edit]

Official Complicity[edit]

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 an 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.[5][6]

The Belgian Gendarmerie were abolished in reforms that came as a result of a perceived lack of satisfactory performance in the Brabant killers case, and that of Marc Dutroux.[2][7]

Westland New Post[edit]

The NATO 'Stay Behind' explanation for the Brabant incidents was explored in a 1992 BBC Timewatch series named 'Operation Gladio', directed by Allan Francovich. The program centered on a by-then defunct private Belgian far right anti-communist organization named Westland New Post. The leader, Paul Latinus, said he was working with government agencies along the same lines as Gladio. Many people believe Latinus fabricated contacts with secret government agencies to boost his prestige among WNP followers.

The main WNP connection to the Brabant killers was that members — including some Gendarmerie — recalled being ordered in the early eighties to covertly surveil and compile a report on security arrangements at various Belgian supermarkets. Some of the markets were in a large chain that was the main target of the later killings. 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.[8][9][10][11][12]

Michel Libert, the former second-in-command of Westland New Post, has never denied passing on the covert-supermarket-surveillance orders. He has denied having anything more to do with the matter. He said he was not told by Latinus what the purpose was behind the assignments.[9][10][11][13][14][15][16]

In 1983 Libert had been staying with Marcel Barbier, a WNP member, when the latter was arrested for using a weapon in a street fight and became a suspect in a double murder at a synagogue a year earlier. When police then began investigating WNP, Latinus told them that Barbier and another WNP member were behind the synagogue murders, and that Latinus had helped Barbier get rid of the murder weapon as well as other pieces of evidence. Barbier was the only person convicted for these murders; his co-accused, who was acquitted, but later convicted, of a similar double murder of diamond merchants, appeared in a Belgian TV program in 2014, where he alleged WNP was behind the Brabant killings. This claim was based on WNP apparently having compiled information on the premises raided. Libert was arrested as a suspect soon after the program was broadcast, but released without charge after 48 hours.[9][10][11][13][14][15][16]

Other Speculation[edit]

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.

Possible Suspects[edit]

Notorious professional criminals, including Patrick Haemers and Madani Bouhouche (both deceased) have been indicated as likely suspects. Haemers's height made him an apparent fit for the Brabant gang's 'Giant'. On the other hand, his known crimes lacked the gratuitous violence and small-time takings that were the Brabant killers' hallmark. Bouhouche was an ex-policeman convicted of two murders and linked to several notorious crimes of the era.[17]

Investigation[edit]

In 1983, on the basis of a forensic examination of a weapon, authorities charged the gun owner (a former municipal policeman) and several other men with the Brabant killings. Police said they obtained statements from the men under interrogation. However, the Brabant killers' Orhain raid (Oct. 2nd, 1983) occurred while the accused were in detention. It later came out that a German laboratory had concluded that the examined weapon (a pistol) had not been used in the robberies. Charges against the "Borains," as the men were known, were eventually dropped.

The law enforcement agencies hunting the killers made many mistakes during the early years of the investigation. Among them were the mishandling of fingerprints believed to have belonged to one of the killers. These fingerprints were either destroyed or simply lost. The investigating magistrate was criticized for lack of professionalism in handling evidence and not considering alternatives to his theories about the case. He was later replaced.[1][18]

Current Lines of Inquiry[edit]

One gang member's DNA profile has been established; it has yet to be matched to anyone.

Police are still working on the case. In recent years, arrests for questioning and rewards for gang members who might provide accomplice information have been directed at decades-old suspects.[1][11][18] However, barring an extension to the statute of limitations, the gang members cannot be punished for the crimes. The limit ran out November 10, 2015.[19]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Official website of police investigation
  2. ^ a b Vice.com Virgile Dall’Armellina , Police Are Running Out of Time to Catch the 'Crazy Brabant Killers'
  3. ^ a b Les dernières heures des tueurs du Brabant (2/3)
  4. ^ Flanders Today, July 2015 Suspect arrested in 30-year-old Brabant Killers case
  5. ^ http://www.senate.be/lexdocs/S0523/S05231297.pdf
  6. ^ Permanent Committee for the Control of Intelligence Agencies (Belgium) See in particular the "history" section in the "Presentation" part.
  7. ^ Chronologie des faits attribués aux tueurs du Brabant page 21-22
  8. ^ Financial Times blog, May 10, 2013, Sir Ranulph Fiennes caught trying to rob a bank
  9. ^ a b c (in Dutch) Gazet Van Antwerpen/Belga (2014). "Ex-kopstuk Westland New Post vrijgelaten (Former leader Westland New Post released)". 
  10. ^ a b c Résistances.be [1]
  11. ^ a b c d The Brussels Times, 23 October 2014, Brabant killers: Michel Libert (WNP) taken in for questioning from home in Brussels
  12. ^ RTBF Tueries du Brabant: perquisition et interpellation de Michel Libert (WNP)
  13. ^ a b Michel Libert interpellé le jour de la diffusion du Devoir d'Enquête " Spéciale TUERIES DU BRABANT "
  14. ^ a b 3 octobre 2014 , Tueries du Brabant: pas d'inculpation de Michel Libert
  15. ^ a b RTBF Tueries du Brabant: perquisition et interpellation de Michel Libert (WNP)
  16. ^ a b (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)". 
  17. ^ Faits divers - Ariège. Le bûcheron mort accidentellement près de Lavelanet était mêlé aux tueries du Brabant.
  18. ^ a b DH.be, 24/6/15, Christian De Valkeneer s’est invité chez Michel Cocu
  19. ^ "Police Are Running Out of Time to Catch The 'Crazy Brabant Killers'". Vice News. Retrieved 1 January 2017. 

External links[edit]