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Belgium still stunned over shooting rampage

LIÈGE, Belgium -- A card at a memorial to the victims asked the question haunting all of Belgium: "Why?"

Why did Nordine Amrani, a 33-year-old with a history of lawbreaking, sweep into this city's holiday shopping center to unleash a grenade-and-gun rampage that killed three people and wounded 123 others? Why did he then kill himself?

Deepening the mystery, police announced yesterday that another body had been found, that of a 45-year-old woman, in a shed where Amrani grew cannabis close to his home.

Liège prosecutor Daniele Reynders said that, after searches of Amrani's house, terrorism could be excluded.

"It was a cleaning lady. This is how she met him yesterday morning," she said. "She dies, shot with a bullet in the head."

The ferris wheel at the Christmas market started turning again yesterday, hoping to restore some festive cheer, but the mood remained black as the coal that once drove this rustbelt city in eastern Belgium.

"The crowds won't show up," said Françoise Robert, a vendor selling miniature castles and Christmas items. "People are scared."

At the outdoor bus depot that Amrani attacked, a parade of people bundled against the wind and rain paid tribute to the victims. Young women cried and families lit candles as shards of glass still littered the pavement.

"Warum? [Why?]" asked one card, surrounded by toys, flowers and candles. The victims included a 1 1/2 year-old toddler and two teenage boys, both students. Five others are reported in critical condition.

Adélie Miguel, a 48-year-old resident of Spanish descent, placed a bouquet of white tulips against the shattered bus stop. "We are all Liègeois, united in suffering," she said. "This was an act of a sick man."

Beyond the dead and injured, Reynders said 40 other people had to be treated for psychological trauma.

In the capital, Brussels, the government pledged to toughen the gun law and put stricter controls on multiple offenders on conditional release. Amrani, who had done jail time for offenses involving guns and drugs, had been called in for questioning Tuesday by police in a sexual abuse case.

His lawyer said Amrani had been particularly scared over the last few days that he would be jailed again. Whether that was the tipping point is unclear. "He was extremely nervous," Jeann-François Dister told VRT network. "He was impulsive but what he did was unbelievable."

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