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5 dead, scores injured in Belgium grenade, gun attack

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 7:03 AM EST, Wed December 14, 2011
  • NEW: Spokeswoman: A 23-month old baby dies from wounds in a Belgian hospital
  • Two teenage boys, an elderly woman and the attacker are also dead, Liege prosecutor says
  • The number injured in the attack now stands at 119, Liege police say
  • The attacker, who served 40 months in jail, showed no sign of mental illness, a source says

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Liege, Belgium (CNN) -- A grenade and gun attack in this eastern Belgian city left five people dead, including the attacker, and 119 wounded Tuesday, authorities said.

A 23-month-old baby died in a hospital late Tuesday after being wounded in the attack near a Christmas market in a city center square, said Katrin Delcourt, a spokeswoman for the Liege provincial governor's office. Others killed in the attack included two teenage boys, aged 15 and 17, and a 75-year-old woman, Liege public prosecutor Danielle Reynders told reporters.

Some 52 people were treated for injuries by medics at a field hospital set up near the scene, the prosecutor said, while others went to hospitals in the area.

Police fear the death toll will rise overnight, a spokeswoman for Liege police said.

The attacker was identified as Nordine Amrani, 33, of Liege, Reynders said.

He died in the attack in which he hurled three grenades and fired weapons from a rooftop into the crowded square near a court building, she said.

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The man acted alone in the attack in Place St. Lambert, and police are not looking for other suspects, she said, adding that he had left his home with a pistol, a semi-automatic rifle and the grenades in his bag.

Police had asked the attacker, who had been previously convicted on drugs and weapons offenses, to come in for an interview in an ongoing investigation, the prosecutor said. He had never been charged with terror offenses.

Reynders said officials were not yet able to explain the motive for the attack.

Delcourt, the spokeswoman for the provincial governor's office, told CNN that Amrani was on conditional parole. She could not give details of the police investigation.

It remained unclear whether he had committed suicide or had died when one of the grenades exploded in his face, she said.

One of the weapons he had, a light automatic rifle, is a standard-issue weapon in the Belgian army, Delcourt said.

A senior Belgian security source, who has been briefed on the investigation but did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told CNN that Amrani's police meeting scheduled Tuesday was for suspected rape.

Amrani was on an elevated walkway above the square when he began throwing grenades down into the crowd and then firing, before shooting himself in the head with his revolver, the source said.

Amrani was previously in prison on drugs and arms racketeering charges, the source said, having been caught cultivating "several thousand" cannabis plants.

Authorities will carry out an autopsy in part to see if he was under influence of drugs during the attack, which has shocked the country and its security service, the source said.

He said that during Amrani's 40 months in jail, he was not diagnosed with any mental disorder or seen to be politicized before being released on conditional parole. The source said authorities have found no ties to Islamist terrorism.

Liege resident Kevin Hauzeur told CNN that he ducked for cover as he heard a "huge explosion and two or three gunshots" in the city center.

A lot of people were in the area at the time to shop at the Christmas market, Hauzeur said. The crowd was "spinning around, crying -- it was really chaotic," he said.

He said he had seen what appeared to be the body of an attacker before police cleared everyone from the area. Police told him the man had shot himself, Hauzeur said.

A CNN correspondent at the scene Tuesday evening said dozens of police in fluorescent jackets remained in the cordoned-off square but it was otherwise deserted.

Municipal cleaning vehicles sprayed the central market area with water, he said, overseen by a large Christmas tree, which remained illuminated.

Oliver Moch, a spokesman for the Citadelle hospital, the largest in the Liege area, said 31 people injured in the attack had been admitted for treatment there.

The Belgian Red Cross also had a team on site in Liege, operations director Gregory Jones told CNN earlier. It was providing psychological support.

King Albert II and Queen Paola went to Liege to meet the mayor, provincial governor and workers with the Red Cross and emergency services following the attack, the Belgian royal palace told CNN.

Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo also traveled to Liege, his spokesman said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement saying: "There can be absolutely no place for appalling acts of violence such as this in any society, and I condemn this attack in the strongest terms."

Charles Boisoin, whose apartment overlooks the city center, told CNN shortly after the attack that he and his neighbors had been instructed by police not to leave their homes. The city center was virtually deserted and all he could hear and see were helicopters flying overhead, he said.

Television footage and images from the scene showed blood on the sidewalk, as well as police officers and vehicles gathered nearby.

The provincial governor's office initially said that police were searching for at least one suspect.

Liege is Belgium's third-largest city, after Brussels and Antwerp, the national tourist office says. Dating back centuries, it is an important cultural and industrial center for the country.

CNN's Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank in Liege, and Laura Perez Maestro, Max Foster, Jo Shelley, Samuel Burke, Aliza Kassim and Antonia Mortensen contributed to this report. It was written by Laura Smith-Spark in London.

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