This story is over 5 years old.


Police Are Running Out of Time to Catch the 'Crazy Brabant Killers'

The ex-leader of a Belgian neo-Nazi group was arrested on Wednesday for questioning over the killing of 28 people in the 1980s. But police don't have long left to solve the case.
Image via Reuters

Michel Libert, former number two of the Westland New Post (WNP), an underground neo-Nazi terrorist group that was formed in Belgium in 1981, was taken in for questioning on Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation into the Brabant Massacres.

Libert was released 24 hours into questioning by the Jumet special investigation unit in Charleroi, Belgium, which has been heading up the investigation for almost 30 years.


The Brabant Massacres were a series of particularly brutal attacks that left 28 people dead between 1982 and 1985. To this day, the culprits — dubbed the Crazy Brabant Killers — have still not been identified.

The raids were usually carried out by three men, who held up supermarkets, stores, hostels, and a gunsmiths in small towns across the former Belgian province of Brabant. In 1982, the group held up a grocery store in Maubeuge, in the north of France, making off with a dozen boxes of tea and a few bottles of wine. They also stole weapons after attacking gun dealers and stores.

The attackers, usually armed with shotguns, were known to open fire on customers and store owners for no apparent reason. Several children died in the attacks. During their last robbery in Alost, in 1985, they shot and killed eight people.

VICE News spoke to Pierre Magnien, the public prosecutor who is assigned to the investigation. "We brought Michel Libert in for questioning to hear him again in this case… He used to be the co-leader of a group, the WNP, several members of which we believe took part in the killings," Magnien said.

'A thief might shoot someone who was trying to stand up to him. The goal here was to massacre.'

According to Belgian television channel RTBF, Libert was arrested on Wednesday morning at his home in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert in the Brussels region. Libert, who was responsible within the group for the ideological training of militants, has already been heard as a witness in the case. Police are said to have questioned Libert over orders he allegedly gave to monitor department stores, including the Delhaize chain of supermarkets, which were targeted in five separate attacks by the Brabant killers.


Magnien told VICE News how, years after the events took place, the investigation is running out of time: "The statute of limitations on this type of incident is 15 years, which is renewable once within the same delay after the last deed. The last deed of note occurred in November 1985, so, unless the law changes, the statute of limitations will expire in 2015."

VICE News contacted Julien Sapori, historian, police commissioner, and author of the preface to the book, L'histoire vraie des tueurs fous du Brabant [The true story of the crazy Brabant killers.]

"Frankly, the petty criminal motive seems very unlikely to me," Sapori said. "When you compare the spoils to the number of people who died or were wounded, it's grotesque. The minute they got out of the car, they started shooting at everybody, including a child. No thief would act in this way. A thief might shoot someone who was trying to stand up to him. The goal here was to massacre."

The world should follow Belgium's lead in granting prisoners the right to die. Read more here.

For Sapori, speaking now as a historian, the absence of motive makes these crimes even harder to attribute: "There are numerous hypotheses: the secret service, the far right, etc. But one thing that seems certain is that, in all of these attacks, money does not seem to be the motive."

However, Sapori categorically rejects the idea that the attackers are being protected by the authorities. "I don't believe in the conspiracy theory. I cannot imagine that dozens of police officers and judges belonging to different departments have agreed to bury the case. But I do think that the Belgian police system was very dysfunctional. The structure of the Belgian police has been completely reviewed since then: efficiency, inter-departmental coordination, and liaison with the justice [department], etc."

Notwithstanding a change to Belgian law, the Brabant killers will no longer be punishable for their crimes after November 10, 2015. A proposal to extend the statute of limitations is currently under review.

Follow Virgile Dall'Armellina on Twitter : @armellina