Thierry Dricot / Reuters
Rescuers evacuate injured people from Place Saint-Lambert Square in the Belgian city of Liege after men threw explosives into a crowd
Updated at 6:10 p.m.. ET:
LIEGE, Belgium - A man armed with hand grenades and guns opened fire in the crowded center of this Belgian city on Tuesday, killing four people and wounding at least 122 before taking his own life.
It was not immediately clear what motivated the attack in the busy Place Saint-Lambert, the central entry point to downtown shopping streets in the industrial city in eastern Belgium. The attack ignited a stampede of hundreds, as shoppers fled the explosions and bullets.
Interior Ministry official Peter Mertens said the attack did not involve terrorism but did not explain why he thought that.
Belgian officials identified the attacker as Norodine Amrani, 33, a Liege resident who they said had done jail time for offenses involving guns, drugs and sexual abuse.
The dead were two boys, 15 and 17, a 75-year-old woman, and a 2-year-old girl who perished later in the day.
Liege Prosecutor Danielle Reynders said Amrani had been summoned for police questioning on Tuesday but the reason for the questioning was not clear. He still had a number of grenades with him when he died, she said.
Officials said Amrani left his home in Liege with a backpack, armed with hand grenades, a revolve and an FAL assault rifle. He walked alone to the central square, then got onto a platform that gave him an ideal view of the square below, which was bedecked with a huge Christmas tree and crowded with shoppers.
From there, at about 6:30 a.m. ET, Amrani lobbed three hand grenades toward a nearby bus shelter, which serves 1,800 buses a day, then opened fire on the crowd. The explosions sent glass from the bus shelter across a wide area.
Earlier media reports had said as many as three men had launched the midday attack, which left blood splattered across the cobblestone streets of the central square.
Footage from the scene showed people, including a large group of children, fleeing down the streets of the city center — some still carrying shopping bags. Ambulances and police vehicles descended on the area in eastern Belgium.
As police helicopters and ambulances raced to the scene, the Belgian public broadcaster VRT reported that residents were ordered stay in their homes or seek shelter in shops or public buildings.
Another broadcaster, Radio Television Belge Francophone, said all buses had been asked to leave the city center and all shops in the area were closed, some with many customers stranded inside.
'We ran for our lives'
A medical post was set up in the courtyard of the palace of the Prince Bishops court house at the site. Emergency medical teams were called in from as far away as the Netherlands, Mertens said.
VRT Radio spoke with Herve Taveirne from the courthouse into which he had fled to escape the gunfire.
"We were in the courthouse building and were just leaving when we saw someone toss a grenade," Taveirne said. "I grabbed a little boy ... and took him back into the courthouse. Outside the building I heard shooting ... Our lives were in danger. This man was shooting in any direction. We ran for our lives at that point."
The television channel La Une said the attack included the assailant opening fire with a Kalashnikov automatic weapon on a bus in the areas.
An unidentified man who was wounded in the attack told Belgium's VRT television network that "someone threw grenades and fired shots."
Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister who is now president of the European Council, said he was badly shaken by the attack.
"There is no explanation whatsoever," Van Rompuy said. "It leaves me perplexed and shocked."
While officials excluded terrorism as a motive for Amrani's attacks, Europe has experienced several recent terror attacks.
In Italy on Tuesday, a man opened fire in an outdoor market in Florence, killing two vendors from Senegal and wounding three other immigrants before killing himself, authorities said. Investigators identified the attacker as 50-year-old Gianluca Casseri, and RAI state TV said he was known to police for having participated in racist marches by an extreme right-wing group.
In Norway last July, far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik went on a bomb and shooting spree that killed 77 people around Oslo, apparently motivated by a hatred of Muslim immigrants and a deep grudge against the governing Labor Party. A psychiatric evaluation found him criminally insane, which if upheld by the courts means he would end up in compulsory psychiatric care instead of prison.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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