People leave tributes at the site of Tuesday
People leave tributes at the site of Tuesday's gun and grenade attack in Liege.
PHOTO: Getty Images

Story highlights

Amrani's lawyer says his client feared losing the life he had rebuilt after a past prison term

Lawyer Jean-Francois Dister spoke to the gunman shortly before he went on a rampage

The attack in Liege left five people and the gunman dead, as well as at least 130 wounded

Nourdine Amrani had been called to an interview with police over a sex assault case

(CNN) —  

A man who killed five people and himself in a gun and grenade attack in Belgium feared going back to prison and losing the life he had built, his lawyer said Thursday.

The attack on a crowded market square in Liege Tuesday by Nourdine Amrani, which also left at least 130 people wounded, shocked the nation.

His defense lawyer in Liege, Jean-Francois Dister, told CNN Amrani had called him late Monday and early Tuesday after the police called him in for interview Tuesday afternoon over a sexual assault case.

“It wasn’t so much life in prison that bothered him – he’d served time already – but it was he’d rebuilt his life on the outside, and he was worried about losing all this,” Dister said.

The lawyer said he was stunned when he heard later that day that Amrani, whom he had known for two-and-a-half years, was responsible for the grenade attack.

“It’s very shocking. I don’t understand the reason why he did this, and I think I will probably never understand,” he said.

Nonetheless, Dister’s comments give the first real insight into what might have motivated Amrani to go on a rampage that targeted people waiting at a bus stop by a busy Christmas market.

After the attack, police also found a dead woman in a residence next to a workshop where Amrani once grew marijuana, a local police spokesman said Wednesday.

Amrani had previously served time in prison for rape and drug trafficking offenses, his lawyer said. He was released last year.

Dister said Amrani was also convicted on weapons charges in 2008 but later acquitted. Liege authorities have not said he was cleared on those counts.

Liege prosecutor Danielle Reynders told CNN Wednesday that the police interview involved a sexual assault case, rather than a rumored rape allegation.

“Because Amrani was convicted of rape in 2003, police obviously regarded him as a person of interest,” Dister said.

Dister said his client, who had a Belgian partner whom Dister had met several times, feared losing everything.

“He was someone that was integrated into society. He felt Belgian. I’m not sure if he was a practicing Muslim but he knew about his culture and his roots,” Dister said.

“When things were going well for him he was very pleasant and good-natured. I never had problems with him. But, that said, sometimes when legal proceedings were dragging on, or he was accused of things he claimed (he) was not responsible for he could become annoyed and agitated – but it was in words only.”

Dister said Amrani did not to his knowledge take drugs and had not been charged with drugs use.

Authorities will conduct an autopsy in part to see whether Amrani was under the influence of drugs during the attack, said a senior Belgian security source who has been briefed on the investigation but did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

It is not yet clear how Amrani, who Reynders said was a Brussels-born Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent, obtained the pistol, semi-automatic rifle and three grenades he used in the attack.

Katrin Delcourt, a spokeswoman for the provincial governor’s office, described Amrani Wednesday as having significant gunsmith and firearms skills.

For a period up to 2008, he held a French hunting license under which he bought at least one weapon, she said, but that license was revoked as a result of the police investigation that led to his conviction on arms and drugs trafficking offenses in 2008.

The weapons he owned then were destroyed and police are continuing to investigate whether the arms used in Tuesday’s attack were bought on the black market, Delcourt said.

One of the weapons he had, a light automatic rifle, is a standard weapon in the Belgian army, she said.

Amrani left no explanation for his actions, investigators have said.