ExxonMobil executive gunned down in Belgium

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BRUSSELS — So far, it’s still a mystery.

A British oil executive gunned down in front of his wife in the Belgian capital of Brussels. Helmeted assailants escaping on a motorcycle. No arrests. A driver of a white van who has not been found. A court order for police not to reveal the details.

Was the killing of Nicholas Mockford, a 60-year-old executive for ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, a car-jacking gone wrong? A muffed purse-snatching? Or was it a cold-blooded professional hit for reasons yet unknown?

Mockford, a British national living in Belgium, was shot dead on Oct. 14 as he left an Italian restaurant in Neder-over-Heembeek — a village in medieval days that has since been swallowed up by the expanding capital. He died in the street as his wife cradled him in her arms and a neighbor tried to resuscitate him.

In the beginning, the investigating judge imposed an order on police preventing them from releasing any detail on the case, which police said was not unusual in a serious murder case. As a result, initial news reports were sparse. But on Thursday, authorities switched course and decided to enlist the public’s help, releasing a brief description of the crime.

Mockford and his wife, Mary, left Da Marcello restaurant about 10 p.m., the report said. They crossed the street toward their car, identified by news reports as a Lexus.

When they reached the car, an assailant “threatened” Mrs. Mockford, hit her several times in the face, and tried to yank her bag away, police said.

Suddenly, a second assailant fired four shots at Mockford, who died at the scene, according to police.

On Oct. 16, the VTM television channel interviewed a neighbor who asked not to be identified.

“I heard the sound of two, well I don’t know, like tack, tack,” said the man, whose image was blurred. “I thought that was strange and went outside. I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk across the street. She was shouting ‘Help! Help!’ There was also a man lying next to a car.”

The man said Mrs. Mockford mentioned a white van, so neighbors originally thought her husband had been the victim of a hit-and-run accident.

“I stayed with the man, but he stopped breathing,” the neighbor said. “I resuscitated him and he came to. Then he became unconscious again and at that moment the ambulance arrived.

He said after ambulance workers had cut open the man’s clothing, he saw the man “had a bullet in his chest and a bullet in his shoulder. There was also blood on his head.”

Investigators have asked that the driver of the van report to police, saying it had crossed the couple’s path shortly before the attack.

The assailants, who wore motorcycle helmets, initially escaped on foot but were later seen on a motorcycle, the police report said.

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