Two Belgian air-force soldiers were arrested in the heart of Brussels’ European quarter in possession of ammunition in a surreal incident that went largely unnoticed last Saturday, a spokesperson for Brussels’ public prosecutor said.
Witnesses at the scene said the arrests took place right next to the European Commission’s headquarters, in Rue Archimède in an apartment close to the Café Berlaymont, a favorite haunt of Brussels officials.
“The two people were deprived of their freedom, heard by police services, and discharged after their hearing,” the spokesperson said, confirming previous reports from the Belgian media.
The spokesperson was “not able to confirm the provenance of said ammunition,” and said an “investigation (was) ongoing” to determine where the bullets came from.
According to Flemish-language daily Het Nieuwsblad, residents saw the two men shooting at random with firearms from an open window and called the police.
The weapons turned out to be air guns, the police discovered. But, upon searching the building, the police found more than 200 rounds of ammunition “intended for submachine guns used by Belgian troops,” Het Nieuwsblad reports.
“We heard one or two big noises, and wondered what it was,” said Angelo Galatanu, waiter at a bar next to the building where the arrest was made. He was working last Saturday, but since it is “so noisy in that street,” he did not think much of it, he said, adding that he went on working.
Two other shopkeepers said they saw some police activity on the street that evening, but the police did not stop people from walking by and the street was never closed.
In a statement to POLITICO, Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said she would not make any “concrete statements” on the case, as it is currently under investigation by both her ministry and judicial services.
“As a minister, I would like to repeat that this kind of behavior is absolutely not accepted within the ministry of defense,” Dedonder said, adding that “necessary precautionary measures were taken immediately,” once the investigation started.
“Our services are investigating the case and the ministry will suggest a clear and appropriate sanction,” the minister concluded.
The Belgian military has repeatedly come under fire in recent years over misconduct from some of its members, or their links to far-right groups.
Last year, far-right militant and Belgian soldier Jürgen Conings disappeared after stealing military weapons and leaving messages where he threatened to kill health experts and politicians, triggering a weeks-long manhunt until he was found dead in a forest near the Dutch border.
There is no indication of any political motive in this case.