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Kidnapped child returned to parents after six-week ordeal
A 13-year-old boy who was kidnapped by weaponed intruders from his home in Genk in April has been returned to his family. The boy endured six weeks of captivity before being dropped off on Sunday night one kilometre from his house.
Police and the family had kept the case out of the press and the public until yesterday, when it was announced that the boy had returned unharmed. Police had been searching for the boy, who was taken from his home by force by armed men.
According to information gathered by VRT, the kidnappers demanded €5 million for his safe return. While the public prosecutor has confirmed that the boy was released and made his way home, it has not said whether the family paid any of the ransom. VRT’s sources, however, claim that the family delivered two payments totalling €330,000 to the kidnappers.
All seven suspects involved in the kidnapping, in the meantime, were arrested yesterday. One of them has been released pending investigation. Again, as to whether any ransom money was recovered remains unclear.
Five of the seven suspected kidnappers are known to authorities as being radicalised Muslims. One of them, Khalid Bouloudo, is one of Belgium’s most notorious extremists, having previously spent five years in prison for terrorist activities.
Bouloudo (pictured above) was again sentenced to prison for his part in recruiting local Muslims to go fight for IS in Syria and in hiding them once they returned. That sentence was reduced last year in appeal from 10 to three years, but Bouloudo had not yet started the sentence. He is also the co-founder of the Belgian cell of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group.
While there is no official statement on the motive for the kidnapping, the father of the kidnapped boy was convicted in the past in a major drugs case. The father’s brother (the boy’s uncle) is still serving time in connection to the same case.
The family’s lawyer, Luk Delbrouck, told VRT that the press was responsible for making the family “appear wealthy” during that bust, reporting that millions of euros has been confiscated. “The impression was given that there was a lot of money to be gotten here, which was not the case,” said Delbrouck.
The police managed to keep the case quiet, which was no small feat considering some 100 investigators worked on the case as well as co-operated with intelligence units from the Netherlands, France and the US. Their job was made more demanding by the professionalism of the kidnappers, who moved the boy at least three times and who had protected mobile phones that could not be tapped.
“There were frequent contacts between the kidnappers and the family,” said the public prosecutor. “During this period, the safety of the child was paramount. That was the guiding principle of the investigation.”
Once it was clear that the boy was safe, house searches could be conducted and arrests made. The accused will appear in court for the first time on Friday in Tongeren.
As for the boy, he has been remarkably resilient, according to Delbrouck. While he lost six kilograms in the ordeal, “he is in relatively good condition, both physically and psychologically. He told us that he was kept in multiple locations and that he was treated well enough. He suffered mostly from the uncertainty as the weeks wore on. Maybe he is a bit too young to fully comprehend the danger he was in.”
Photo: Khalid Bouloudo in court in 2016