Brabant killers

Brabant massacres
Location Brabant, Belgium
Date 13 March 1982 (1982-03-13)-
9 November 1985 (1985-11-09)
Target Retailers
Attack type
Serial killing, mass shootings, robberies
Deaths 28
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators Unknown
Number of participants
At least three

The Brabant killers, also known as the Nivelles Gang (Dutch: De Bende van Nijvel, French: Les Tueurs du Brabant), are thought to be responsible for a series of violent attacks that mainly occurred in the province of Brabant, Belgium between 1982 and 1985, in which 28 people died and 40 were injured. It became the country's most notorious unsolved crime spree.

The gang's trademark was disproportionate and gratuitous violence in crimes for relatively petty rewards, and insouciance about police response. There have been many speculative theories about the case. Although the perpetrators may have been a particularly psychopathic group of criminals without any ulterior motive, a recently revived line of enquiry followed up assertions that a politically extreme paramilitary group were sent on an undercover reconnaissance exercise that involved checking on the security of some of the supermarkets targeted in the raids. According to various witnesses, the gang was composed of three recurring actual participants on the raids, assisted by a number of others who supplied logistical support and gathered information on targeted businesses. The three most active robbers were commonly called:

The identity and the whereabouts of the killers remain unknown, although one is thought to have been fatally wounded in the last raid. Failure to catch the gang was a major source of the dissatisfaction that led to reform of Belgian police.

Overview of crimes attributed to the gang




After no raids in two years, the gang reappeared on Friday September 27. At approximately 20:00 they carried out an armed robbery at the Delhaize supermarket on rue de la Graignette in Braine-l'Alleud. Less than $6,000 was stolen. Three people were killed, two people wounded. Approximately 15 to 25 minutes later the Delhaize supermarket on Brusselsesteenweg in Overijse was raided. Less than $25,000 was stolen. Five people were killed, one person wounded. As a result, there were security measures that included stationing armed guards at many premises in the region.[1]

Final raid

On Saturday November 9, around 19:30 the presumed last armed robbery happened at the Delhaize supermarket on the Parklaan in Aalst, an area outside of where the gang had typically operated. In all, less than $25,000 was stolen and eight people were killed.

During the robbery, gang members, who were wearing bizarre face paint and disguises, roared and taunted customers, shooting any that looked at the gang members, including children. The shootings were done mainly by the "Killer" who justified this as shooting witnesses, although it appeared these killings were wholly gratuitous shotgun executions. The robbers were slow to leave the scene after returning to their parked getaway vehicle, although there were only two exits and they could easily have been trapped.

Patrol vehicles from Belgium's then two police forces arrived before the gang left the scene. However, most vehicles went to a secondary exit of the car park about 100 yards away. The getaway began at a deliberate pace with the "Giant" walking alongside the car while exchanging shots with a policeman. Police fired more shots from their pistols as the getaway car sped away. A police van pursued the gang for half a kilometer before halting the pursuit, losing track of the gang. The gang's last sighting came that night when one of the gang members on the ground, apparently seriously injured, was spotted at a fork in a forest road.

Decades later, forensic examination on the site found evidence of a weapon having been fired, leading investigators to believe that one of the gang, possibly the "Giant", was finished off by his accomplices and buried in the forest nearby. The getaway car was later found burnt out.[1][2][3]

Method of operation

Some paraphernalia found by police indicated the gang were professional criminals involved in drugs and burglaries, but many puzzlingly irrational elements were also apparent. Proceeds from the robberies were modest relative to the extreme risks they ran and the murders drew investigative resources, although on the other hand the killings made many police officers cautious about engaging the gang. The killings escalated dramatically during the 1985 robberies. Bystanders were shot dead in the car park before the gang even entered the supermarkets and other victims, including children, were shot from as close as a foot away while cowering on floors, which seemed to indicate that killing had become an end in itself. Firearms were a particular interest of the gang and the 12 gauge pump shotguns used were loaded with a rare specialist heavy buckshot. Cars used, often Volkswagens, were stripped of distinctive aspects of the trim, and modifications showed a mechanic's expertise. The driver was highly skilled, and getaways were by quick but non-obvious routes, often to forested areas where the get-away cars were burned out. The gang is believed to have had at least one helper on the last raid.[1][3][4]

Ulterior motives

Official complicity

The last attack where the gang struck despite patrols checking the supermarket every twenty minutes led to rumours of them having some kind of inside knowledge and possibly complicity by individual gendarmes in the attacks. Gendarmerie vehicles (which had an Uzi in a compartment) were present approximately 100 meters away, but failed to engage the gang, or pursue. The Belgian "stay-behind" network SDRA8 (Gladio) — operating as a secret branch of the Belgian military service was suggested by some to have links to the gang. Some units of the stay behind network were made up of members of the Belgian Gendarmerie. One theory was that the communist threat in Western Europe was taken as justifying Operation Gladio being activated. However, the Belgian parliamentary inquiry into Gladio found no substantive evidence that Gladio was involved in any terrorist acts or that criminal groups had infiltrated the stay-behind network.[5][6] The Belgian Gendarmerie were abolished in reforms that came as a result of a perceived lack of satisfactory performance in the Brabant killers case, and that of Marc Dutroux.[2][7]

Westland New Post

The NATO 'Stay Behind' explanation for the Brabant massacres was ostensibly explored in a 1992 BBC Timewatch series named 'Operation Gladio', directed by Allan Francovich, but the program centered on a by then defunct small private Belgian far right anti-communist organization named Westland New Post whose leader Paul Latinus had asserted that he was working with government agencies along the same lines as Gladio. Many people have regarded Latinus as likely to have fabricated contacts with secret government agencies to boost his prestige among WNP followers. The main connection to the Brabant killers was that WNP members, including some Gendarmerie, recalled being ordered in the early eighties to covertly surveil and compile a report on the security arrangements at various Belgian supermarkets, including ones of a large chain that was the main target of the later killings. WNP had one genuine intelligence operative advising on covert techniques, and NATO behind-the-lines units are known to have used the planning of robberies as a theoretical exercise for training.[8][9][10][11][12]

Michel Libert, the former second-in-command of Westland New Post, has never denied passing on the orders to covertly assess supermarket security, though he has denied having anything more to do with the matter, which was out of his sphere of responsibility. He insisted that he had not been told by Latinus what purpose was behind the assignments.[9][10][11][13][14][15][16]

In 1983 Libert had been staying with Marcel Barbier, a WNP member, when the latter was arrested for using a weapon in a street fight and became a suspect in a double murder at a synagogue a year earlier. When police then began investigating WNP, Latinus told them that Barbier and another WNP member were behind the synagogue murders, and that Latinus had helped Barbier get rid of the murder weapon as well as other pieces of evidence. Barbier was the only person convicted for these murders; his co-accused, who was acquitted, but later convicted, of a similar double murder of diamond merchants, appeared in a Belgian TV program in 2014, where he alleged WNP was behind the Brabant killings. This claim was based on WNP apparently having compiled information on the premises raided. Libert was arrested as a suspect soon after the program was broadcast, but released without charge after 48 hours.[9][10][11][13][14][15][16]

Other speculation

There are various complex conspiracy theories, some linking the killings to political scandals, suggesting they were done to disguise a targeted assassination. In one version, connecting the killings to illegal gun-running mafias and legitimate businesses, a banker by the name of Léon Finné, who was shot by the gang in Overijse, was supposedly targeted deliberately. Notorious professional criminals, including Patrick Haemers and Madani Bouhouche, both now deceased, have been indicated as likely suspects. Haemers's height made him an apparent fit for the 'giant' in the Brabant gang; however, his crimes lacked the irrational malevolence and small-time takings that were the Brabant killers' hallmark. Another suspect is Bouhouche, an ex-policeman who was convicted of two murders and was linked to several notorious crimes of the era.[17]


Early failures

In 1983, on the basis of a forensic examination of a weapon handed to police, the owner of the gun, a former municipal policeman, and several other men were charged with the Brabant killings, based on statements obtained under interrogation. However, the gang's Orhain raid occurred while the accused men were in detention. It later emerged that a German laboratory had concluded that the examinated weapon, a pistol, had not been used in the robberies, and the charges were eventually dropped after the men, referred to as the "Borains", had spent two years in custody.

The various law enforcement agencies hunting the killers were ineffective during the crucial early years of the investigation when the gang perpetrated most of their raids. Among the mistakes made by the gendarmerie were the mishandling of fingerprints believed to have belonged to one of the killers. These fingerprints were either destroyed or simply lost, thereby bereaving law enforcement of vital and potentially case-making evidence. The investigating magistrate was criticized not only for lack of professionalism in handling evidence, but also for failure to consider alternatives to his theories about the case. He was later replaced.[1][18]

Current lines of inquiry

The weapons used in the killings, as well as others taken from victims, including police, were never found. One gang member's DNA profile has been established, but a match has not been found. Many believe the case to be essentially unsolvable 30 years on due mostly to the severe mishandling of evidence, but the Brabant killers are still actively sought using considerable resources. Arrests for questioning and offers of rewards for repentant gang members who might provide information on accomplices have in recent years been directed at decades-old suspects.[1][11][18]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Official website of police investigation
  2. 1 2 Virgile Dall’Armellina , Police Are Running Out of Time to Catch the 'Crazy Brabant Killers'
  3. 1 2 Les dernières heures des tueurs du Brabant (2/3)
  4. Flanders Today, July 2015 Suspect arrested in 30-year-old Brabant Killers case
  6. Permanent Committee for the Control of Intelligence Agencies (Belgium) See in particular the "history" section in the "Presentation" part.
  7. Chronologie des faits attribués aux tueurs du Brabant page 21-22
  8. Financial Times blog, May 10, 2013, Sir Ranulph Fiennes caught trying to rob a bank
  9. 1 2 3 (Dutch) Gazet Van Antwerpen/Belga (2014). "Ex-kopstuk Westland New Post vrijgelaten (Former leader Westland New Post released)".
  10. 1 2 3 Ré
  11. 1 2 3 4 The Brussels Times, 23 October 2014, Brabant killers: Michel Libert (WNP) taken in for questioning from home in Brussels
  12. RTBF Tueries du Brabant: perquisition et interpellation de Michel Libert (WNP)
  13. 1 2 Michel Libert interpellé le jour de la diffusion du Devoir d'Enquête " Spéciale TUERIES DU BRABANT "
  14. 1 2 3 octobre 2014 , Tueries du Brabant: pas d'inculpation de Michel Libert
  15. 1 2 RTBF Tueries du Brabant: perquisition et interpellation de Michel Libert (WNP)
  16. 1 2 (Dutch) Gazet Van Antwerpen/Belga (2014). "Gewezen lid extreemrechtse groepering ondervraagd over Bende van Nijvel (Former member extreme right group interrogated about Brabant Killers)".
  17. Faits divers - Ariège. Le bûcheron mort accidentellement près de Lavelanet était mêlé aux tueries du Brabant.
  18. 1 2, 24/6/15, Christian De Valkeneer s’est invité chez Michel Cocu

External links

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