By Paul Bond:
21 June 2006
Some 20,000 people, many wearing white armbands, joined a march against racism in Belgium’s second-largest city, Antwerp, last month.
The march had been called following two recent attacks in the city that left three people dead and another seriously injured.
The murders have highlighted the growth of extreme right-wing tendencies in Belgian politics.
One of the murderers has direct links to the far-right Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest—VB).
At the beginning of May, five skinheads beat up a black Frenchman in the city of Bruges.
He is still in a coma following the assault.
In Antwerp, 23-year-old Moroccan Mohamed Bouazza drowned in the River Scheldt on the night of April 30 following an apparently racist attack at a nightclub.
In Brussels, earlier in the year, a black man was attacked at a petrol station.
The beating left him partially blind and paralysed.
The incident that focused public concern took place on May 11 in Antwerp.
Facing expulsion from his agricultural and biotechnological college after he was caught smoking, 18-year-old Hans van Themsche [spelled Temsche in some reports] shaved his head and bought a Winchester rifle.
He warned his fellow students that he would commit suicide and take 10 immigrants (he used the racist term “makakken”) with him, saying that by doing so he “would have…done something good.”
Dressing himself in black, he left a note for his school friends and headed for the city centre.
Once there, van Themsche started firing, deliberately targeting immigrants.
He shot and wounded Songul Koç, a young Turkish woman wearing a headscarf, as she sat reading on a bench.
She is still in intensive care recovering from her injuries.
He then opened fire on a two-year-old white child and her Malian nanny.
Both Luna Drowart and Oulematou Niangadou were killed.
Van Themsche was then stopped by a plainclothes policeman.
When he refused to drop his weapon, the officer shot him, wounding him in the stomach.
He was charged with murder and attempted murder and is presently in hospital under police guard.
In his first statement after his arrest, van Themsche said, “That girl [Luna Drowart] was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
After his arrest, van Themsche told prosecutors that he “sympathised with the extreme right side” of Belgian politics.
Although not a member of VB, he grew up schooled in its racist politics.
His father, a local party leader, was a founding member of Vlaams Blok (Flemish Bloc), the party’s precursor.
Van Themsche’s Aunt Frieda is currently a VB MP in the Flemish regional government.
His grandfather [Karel van Themsche] was a member of the Waffen SS on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.