Search continues for missing girls

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The prime suspect in the disappearance of two Belgian schoolgirls was ordered to stay behind bars yesterday as the search continued for the step-sisters who have been missing for more than a week.

Lawyers for Abdallah Aid Oud told a court in Liège that police had insufficient evidence to hold their client, who was charged last week with kidnapping the two children. Mr Aid Oud's lawyers said they would appeal against the decision.

The plight of Nathalie Mahy, aged 10, and Stacy Lemmens, seven, has rekindled memories of the abduction, rape and murder of Julie Lejeune and Melissa Russo, both aged eight, who were snatched by Marc Dutroux from their homes at Grâce-Hollogne, near Liège, in June 1995.

Mr Aid Oud was in the pub in Liège visited by the parents of the missing girls on 10 June, the night they disappeared.

On Sunday investigators questioned Catherine Dizier, Nathalie's mother, for nine hours, who said she had received a suspicious text message. Investigators have also interviewed her boyfriend, Thierry Lemmens, Stacy's father. Police have been searching the river Meuse and an abandoned mine building in Liège.

Didier Mahy, Nathalie's father, said he believed the girls were alive and appealed to their captor to release them. "Just drop them off somewhere," he said in a TV message. "Do it anonymously, but give them back."