Defence department and military intelligence made mistakes”

Belgian defence minister Ludivine Dedonder (Francophone socialist) and Michel Hofman, the chief of the defence staff, have admitted that mistakes were made in providing follow-up in the case of Jürgen Conings, the heavily armed soldier, who went AWOL last week.

However, the chief of the defence staff and the defence minister remained markedly tight-lipped at the news conference they called this morning.

They did not expand on the nature of the mistakes and Hofman insisted the investigation was ongoing and the defence minister would be given the first conclusions.

In response to shows of support on social media defence minister Dedonder said she thought it was regrettable members of the armed forces and former members were supporting Conings. “There is no place for extremism in the armed forces” she added.  Eleven soldiers, who are being monitored on account of far-right sympathies, have been banned from wearing weapons.  Other measures could follow.

Questions arose from the start as it transpired that Conings was able to arm himself at the barracks despite featuring on a watchlist for potentially dangerous extremists. Initially neither the chief of staff nor the defence minister knew the soldier was on the list.

Watchdog OCAD analyses the terrorist threat and draws up its list.  It’s then up to police and prosecutors to provide follow-up.  As he’s a member of the armed forces this was a job for the ADIV (military intelligence). An investigation has to establish whether there was break in communications or the follow-up faltered.

Chief of the defence staff Hofman explained that both the defence department and military intelligence had made mistakes in passing on information.  Rules and procedures were ‘probably’ not fully respected and expertise was ‘eroded’.

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