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Hans VAN THEMSCHE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Racism-motivated crimes - Skinhead
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: May 11, 2006
Date of arrest: Same day (wounded by police)
Date of birth: February 7, 1988
Victims profile: Oulemata Niangadou, 24 (a pregnant Malian nanny) and her two-year-old charge Luna Drowart
Method of murder: Shooting (hunting rifle)
Location: Antwerp, Belgium
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on October 11, 2007
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Hans Van Themsche (born 7 February 1988 in Wilrijk, Flemish Region of Belgium) was, at age 18, a student who, in the city of Antwerp, shot three people; life-threateningly injuring one and killing two, before being stopped by a police bullet. His conviction of life-long incarceration for these racism-motivated crimes followed in 2008.

The highly mediatized event drew major public and political attention to responsibilities regarding political presentation of immigrant and racial issues and its possible effects on individuals

Course of events

Van Themsche had been caught smoking at his boarding school on 9 May 2006, and was facing likely expulsion.

He travelled from Roeselare to Antwerp where, on the morning of the eleventh, he had his long hair cut and shaven off (apart from a ponytail) before legally purchasing a Marlin hunting rifle in .30-30 Winchester and ammunition from a local weapons merchant

About ten minutes before noon, dressed in a Gothic fashion, he began his rampage in the city centre with a shot in the breast of a woman of Turkish descent who was seated six metres away on a bench reading a book; Songul Ko was severely wounded. He chambered another round and passed a pregnant Malian nanny, Oulemata Niangadou, and her two-year-old European charge, Luna Drowart. He turned and shot each of them in the back at close range, killing both instantly.

While he moved on (presumably looking for more victims) Van Themsche was intercepted by a passing police officer, who held him at gunpoint and ordered him to surrender the rifle. After Van Themsche's refusal to put his weapon down and upon a suspicious movement, the officer fired once, neutralizing him with a shot to the stomach. Later on, the father of the killer would comment: "In my eyes, the policeman who shot down my son is a hero. I'm glad the man had so much courage, or else even more victims would have fallen."

Van Themsche, while being treated in hospital, described himself as a skinhead and admitted to police as he had before the murders to boarding school friends to specifically targeting non-whites. Of the 2-year old (white) child, Van Themsche said she was "in the wrong place at the wrong time". Her death, however, was not incidental, since he had to chamber a new round before each shot. He told his interrogators "the presence near a black was sufficient reason" to kill the toddler. According to his statement, his reason for targeting coloured people is that youths of foreign descent used to bully him at school; that would have been at least three years earlier. A farewell letter found in his room as he may not have expected to survive did not declare the premeditated murderous intent to which he confessed but did reveal that he wanted to take action against chaos in society.

On 11 October, a jury of 12 citizens found Van Themsche guilty on all charges pressed against him, including the murder of Oulemata Niangadou and Luna Drowart. They also judged that the murders were motivated by racism. The next day, the jury and the three professional judges of the Court of Assize sentenced him to 'life-long incarceration', which by Belgian Penal Law warrants an effective imprisonment exceeding one third of the conviction with longest defined duration (30 years) before an early release and its conditions can be considered. The Court of Cassation rejected Van Themsche's appeal in February 2008.

By June 2009, civil lawsuits at Antwerp had recognized a total of nearly 325,000 euro for damages to victims' families and Songul Ko whom he had caused a permanent professional disability of 55 percent; further treatment costs would add to his dues.

Reactions

While it took them four days to react after the stabbing to death of Joe Van Holsbeeck by a seventeen-year-old Polish national during a street robbery, King Albert II and prime minister Guy Verhofstadt condemned the racist shootings within hours. The latter was quoted as saying [t]hese horrific, cowardly murders are a form of extreme racism. It should be clear to everyone now where extreme right can lead to. Similarly, no comment from senior government figures was made about a spate of racist attacks in Belgium including the death of Mohammed Bouazza on the 30 April 2006 in what his family believe was a racially motivated attack, an attack on an African man in Brussels by a gang of skinheads which left him blind and paralysed, and an attack on an African man in Bruges which has left him in a coma.

Although many Muslim organizations responded immediately in the Joe Van Holsbeeck murder a few weeks earlier (the killer was initially thought to be Muslim but was subsequently found to be Roman Catholic), no similar statement has been forthcoming from the Catholic church (except for the bishop of Antwerp), Flemish social organizations, or the Vlaams Belang party, although most did condemn the crime.

On May 19 Dyab Abou Jahjah, founder of the Arab European League and Muslim Democratic Party, called the planned demonstration against violence useless. He was quoted as saying "[t]he Flemings are themselves responsible for the racism. The media in Flanders are hopelessly racist, the police are hopelessly racist, the intellectuals are hopelessly racist, the self-declared anti-racists are hopelessly racist! The victims of racism in Flanders are hopelessly racist against their own kind."

Regarding the killer's background and the alleged responsibilities of the Vlaams Belang party and of its voters

A good deal of the public debate surrounding these murders targeted the (far) right Vlaams Belang political party with claims that it is in part morally responsible for the events in Antwerp. Apart from their decade long calls for a tighter immigration policy (including, in its previous incarnation as the Vlaams Blok, the removal of existing Belgian citizens of foreign ethnicity), this party is in favour of armed self defence (except for its principle public figure, Filip Dewinter who has specifically distanced himself from this notion in the aftermath of this racially motivated murder spree.) The party's strident anti-immigrant rhetoric and the fact that the gunman's aunt, Frieda Van Themsche, is a member of parliament for the party boosts the association.

Furthermore, during World War II his grandfather Karel Van Themsche voluntarily fought on the side of his country's occupier Nazi Germany in Waffen SS (Military SS) uniform against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. The family is described as well-behaved and as having an impeccable Flemish-nationalist pedigree, and the Antwerp public prosecutors have said that "on first investigation of his environment and family he (Hans) seems not to be brought up in a racialist or violent setting".

The allegations against Vlaams Belang must be understood in the context of rhetoric like that of commentator Paul Belin, a supporter of the party and spouse of one of its parliamentarians:

The predators have teeth and claws. The predators have knives. Starting when they're small, they learn at their yearly offerings how to cut the throats of warm-blooded livestock. We get sick at the sight of blood, but they don't. They're trained and they're armed. We can't even carry pepperspray in our pockets. They have switchblades and butchers knives and they know how to use them.

Although this is not an official statement of Vlaams Belang, and Belin has no official ties to the party, it offers some sense of the type of rhetoric which has led to its widespread inculpation.

The family of little Luna denounced the letter of sympathy they received from Vlaams Belang and asked to be left in peace until after the funeral. The African nanny was buried in Mali, the repatriation being at the expense of the city of Antwerp. After Luna's funeral, her parents' advocate asked Vlaams Belang to withdraw a campaign banner that displays a strikingly resembling blond little girl, reminding them too much of their daughter, "additionally because the child's killer comes precisely from that environment"; a spokesman for Vlaams Belang responded that its Monday management meeting had already decided to remove the banner.

On May 19 on Canvas TV, foreign minister Karel De Gucht held also the voters of Vlaams Belang morally responsible for the climate in which the murders took place. In the wake of the murders, the government also tried to take action against Flemish entries at certain websites where hate and racism are allegedly spread, such as Stormfront. This proved difficult however, because the sites are American and "unlike in Belgium, there exists a total freedom of expression in the United States".

Results of poll

Four days after the murder, Flemish main commercial television station VTM conducted a poll among 700 Flemings, concerning the political consequences of the murders:

  • Is Vlaams Belang morally responsible for the murders? 24% yes, 46% no, 30% unsure

  • Will Vlaams Belang suffer in the next election? 37% yes, 34% no, 28% unsure

  • Should government funding to Vlaams Belang be cut? 30% yes, 50% no, 30% unsure

A week after the killings, the respected polling site De Stemmenkampioen asked its panel whether Vlaams Belang is partially responsible. The next week, the question focused on whether or not the panel members support the filing of a complaint against Vlaams Belang:

  • Is there a connection between the murders committed by Hans Van Themsche and Vlaams Belang? 36% yes, 59% no, 5% unsure

  • Do you support the procedure, initiated by some parties, that would cut fundings for Vlaams Belang? 30% yes, 63% no, 7% unsure

Aftermath

The evening after the murders, there were some confrontations between Belgian and immigrant youths in Mol. However, the situation remained contained, and there have been no major riots, as there have been after similar events before. On May 14, there were some conflict during a protest march organised by Africans, and some 40 people were arrested. In the early hours of May 14,

An impromptu protest organized in front of the headquarters of the Vlaams Belang on 15 May went without incident.

In the night between May 16 and May 17, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the office of a Flemish nationalist organisation in Berchem. The fire was fortunately quickly extinguished by a Turkish courier, as the apartment above the office was inhabited.

On May 18, fire was set to a Blokker store in Lokeren. The targeted building, as well as four other shops, were completely destroyed. At first sight, these attacks are unrelated to the murders, but according to Dutch newspapers, there have been multiple attacks against Blokker stores in the Netherlands, carried out by anti racists. This is said to be a result of the chairman (correctly) declaring that many of the holdups and thefts in his stores are committed by foreigners.

On June 24, 2006, six immigrant youths caused a stir in a De Lijn bus in Antwerp, beating and hitting a 54-year old passenger who tried to intervene. The passenger would die of a heart attack shortly thereafter. The youths had escaped but could later be arrested; four of them would be released.

 
 

Belgian extremist gets life for race murder

Philippe Siuberski - TheAge.com.au

October 13, 2007

AN ANTWERP court has given a right-wing extremist a life sentence for murdering a young girl and her Malian nanny in a case that shocked Belgium.

With his head bowed, 19-year-old Hans Van Themsche showed no reaction as his sentence was read.

A jury of 12 men and women found Van Themsche guilty of murdering two-year-old Luna Drowart and 24-year-old Oulematou Niangadou and making an attempt on the life of a third woman in May last year.

They also decided that the murders were racially motivated under a 2003 hate-crimes law that has so far never been applied and which in theory can add two years to a sentence.

Racism is a particularly sensitive issue in Antwerp, where there is a big Orthodox Jewish community as well as sizeable north African minorities and where the far-right Vlaams Belang party consistently scores highly in elections.

"You acted with blind violence, without any respect for the lives and integrity of others," presiding judge Michel Jordens said.

"You reduced the value of life to nothing in order to affirm yourself," he added, stressing that the sentence was "severe but not blind".

Before the jury retired to deliberate, Van Themsche said he "would accept the sentence" and that he would "try to serve it in a dignified way".

During the trial, Van Themsche's lawyers argued that he should be confined to a mental institution because he suffered from a form of autism that made him unable to control his actions.

But the jury found that he was aware of what he was doing and the court decided to follow prosecutor Franky De Keyzer's recommendation for a life sentence on the grounds that there were no attenuating circumstances.

After getting kicked out of boarding school for smoking in his room, the youth shaved his head, donned military boots and a long black coat, bought a hunting rifle and set off on a rampage in the port city's old town.

Van Themsche shot the Malian nanny before turning his gun on her two-year-old Belgian charge when Luna, riding her tricycle, started crying.

He also attempted to murder a 47-year-old Turkish woman, Songul Kos, who was shot and seriously injured as she sat on a bench nearby.

Van Themsche was stopped when a policeman shot and wounded him.

Amid widespread outrage after the shooting, legislators tightened rules on selling arms and about 20,000 people participated in a march against racism in Antwerp two months later.

The lawyer of the little girl's parents, Jef Vermassen, said that she had become a "symbol that we cannot be racist (and) that's very important".
 

 

 
 
 
 
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