Judge, official killed in Belgian court


Brussels police were searching for a gunman in the city’s premier shopping district today after a judge and a clerk were shot dead in court.

The attack came in mid-morning as dozens of courtrooms in the vast Palais de Justice were in session.

According to reports, shots were heard somewhere in the building, which is monitored by security staff and police, but is a warren of corridors and courtrooms on several floors.

Police said a gunman was being sought and sealed off surrounding streets, issuing warnings to shoppers and tourists at pavement cafes to go indoors.

Hundreds of police were summoned as the search extended into shopping streets in one direction, the tourist-thronged antiques quarter in another and down to a main railway station.

Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck expressed shock. “This has been a very dramatic incident. It is a tragedy. I am very shocked by what has happened.”

Speaking outside the Palais de Justice, he revealed the dead judge was not a criminal judge, but a justice of the peace. The court clerk who died was believed to be close to retirement. Both were shot in the head.

Mr De Clerck said it was the first time a judge had been killed in a Belgian court. “It’s unacceptable,” he said.

Unconfirmed reports described the alleged killer as a man of Albanian descent, who fled on foot but was reportedly injured while escaping.

He had pulled out a gun while attending a mid-morning hearing in a court dealing with domestic issues, including divorce proceedings.

“We have not ruled out family problems as the motive for what happened but nothing is clear at the moment. We are still looking for the killer,” said an official at the court.