Gunman kills two in Brussels courtroom

A lone gunman killed a magistrate and a clerk at a Brussels courthouse yesterday, then fled on foot, setting off a manhunt in the centre of the Belgian capital.

Officials were unable to give details about the gunman's identity or a possible motive for the killings which took place at 11.23am as the gunman attended a hearing.

"He was present at the outset of the hearing," said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor's office. "Towards the end of the session, he pulled a gun. Shots were fired, after which the killer fled."

Mr Meilleur told a news conference "the gunman did not speak" and that he rose and took careful aim at the judge and the clerk.

Six hours after the killings, the gunman remained at large.

The courtroom was almost empty at the time of the shooting. Apart from the gunman and the two victims there were three lawyers and a spectator present, Mr Meilleur said.

Belgian media identified the magistrate as Isabelle Brandon and her clerk as Andre Bellemans. The justice of the peace hearings involve minor civil cases such as quarrelling neighbours or rent disputes.

Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck said the shootings showed the need for much stricter security in Belgian courthouses. Security at justice of the peace hearings is intentionally minimal to narrow the perceived divide between public and judiciary.

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