The Chief of Staff of the Belgian Army has claimed that Russian internet trolls are behind conspiracy theories regarding the death of a soldier who stole rocket launchers from a military base and threatened to attack the government.
He added that as a result, he wants to speed up boosting the country’s cyber defences.
Admiral and incumbent Chief of Defence of the Belgian Armed Forces, Michel Hofman, 60, said that online conspiracy theories regarding the death of Juergen Conings, who allegedly took his own life in June after stealing weapons – including rocket launchers – from military barracks in Leopoldsburg, are the work of Russian Internet trolls.
The chief of staff claimed that evidence has been found of Russian interference “with the intent to destabilise our Western society and radicalise our people”, according to Belgian media outlet HLN.
And Kenneth Lasoen, an intelligence expert at the University of Antwerp, agreed, saying that those behind the conspiracy theories are “the Kremlin, you should not doubt that”, according to local media outlet Nieuwsbald.
As a result, Admiral Hofman reportedly intends to speed up the development of a fully-fledged cyber defence system for the country.
Juergen Conings allegedly took his life on 20th June 2021 by shooting himself, according to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
The Belgian soldier was suspected of being a far-right extremist and he reportedly took several weapons from the barracks in Leopoldsburg, a municipality in the Belgian province of Limburg, before going on the run.
This triggered a manhunt, especially as he had left farewell letters which allegedly contained violent threats towards the country’s government and Belgian virologists over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The soldier’s body was later found in a forest with a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
Since his death, they have reportedly been numerous conspiracy theories spreading online claiming that he was killed by the government. At the time of writing, these had all been debunked and disproven.
The Belgian Army also said they have proof that some of these conspiracy theories, which allege that the soldier “knew too much”, were instigated by Russian intelligence.
The announcement comes after it was widely reported that NATO has expelled eight members of Russia’s mission to its headquarters for spying, but Moscow denies they were secretly working as intelligence officers.
The statement from the Belgian chief of staff also comes after the CIA reportedly removed its station chief from the Austrian capital Vienna for failing to investigate allegations that Russian agents may have been targeting US diplomats in what has been termed “Havana syndrome”.
Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, has since claimed that “these attacks have stepped-up in their brazenness”.