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
Van Themsche had been caught
smoking at his boarding school on 9 May 2006, and was facing
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 Koç 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 Koç whom he had caused a permanent
professional disability of 55 percent; further treatment costs
would add to his dues.
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.
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".
allegations against Vlaams Belang must be understood in the
context of rhetoric like that of commentator Paul Beliën, a
supporter of the party and spouse of one of its
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.
is not an official statement of Vlaams Belang, and Beliën 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
after the murder, Flemish main commercial television station VTM
conducted a poll among 700 Flemings, concerning the political
consequences of the murders:
Vlaams Belang morally responsible for the murders?
24% yes, 46% no, 30% unsure
Vlaams Belang suffer in the next election?
37% yes, 34% no, 28% unsure
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:
there a connection between the murders committed by Hans Van
Themsche and Vlaams Belang?
36% yes, 59% no, 5% unsure
support the procedure, initiated by some parties, that would
cut fundings for Vlaams Belang?
30% yes, 63% no, 7% unsure
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,
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
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
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".