Murderer: Marc Dutroux, seen being escorted by police officers at Brussels' Palace of Justice today, is seeking early release from prison
The notorious paedophile and serial killer Marc Dutroux could be freed from jail just nine years after being jailed for life for a series of child murders which shocked his native Belgium and the rest of the world.

Dutroux, 57, kidnapped young girls and imprisoned them in tiny dungeons beneath his home before raping them and killing them in the 1990s.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 2004.But today the reviled killer appeared before a court in Brussels seeking to be released early and placed under house arrest with an electronic tag.
Shortly after his arrest in 1996 two teenage girls were found alive in one of the specially constructed cells which Dutroux had built.

His accomplice ex-wife Michelle Martin, 53, who left two other girls to starve to death whilst her husband was in custody, was jailed for 30 years for crimes including abduction in 2004.

She was released last year despite angry protests in Belgium.

She is now living with nuns in Malonne, where hundreds of furious villagers staged a mass demonstration upon her arrival at the convent to embark upon a period of ten years 'at prayer'.

Now under Belgian law Dutroux could also be freed, as he will have served one third of his minimum sentence when his years spent in custody are taken into account.

His legal request to be released was heard by a judge in a closed hearing at the Palace of Justice in Brussels today, where protestors gathered brandishing signs emblazoned with the slogan: 'Dutroux should stay in jail'. The courthouse was sealed off by police officers for the duration of the controversial hearing.

A ruling on the request is not expected before February 18.

The families of three of the young victims are due to lodge a formal complaint against the request via the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Storm of controversy: Journalists are seen gathering at the court in Brussels where the notorious murderer was appearing to request that he be released and placed under house arrest with an electronic tag
They fear that if Dutroux is released he will commit further crimes or attempt to leave the country.

In 1998, six years before his trial, Dutroux was being transferred from prison without handcuffs when he overpowered a guard and seized his gun.

He was recaptured a few hours later in a forest after a ranger recognised him .

Dutroux was arrested in 1996 and jailed for life in June 2004 for the kidnap, rape and torture of six young girls in the mid 1990s, four of whom died.

Freed: Michelle Martin, Dutroux's ex-wife, was released from prison last year amid angry protests in Belgium
Martin was also arrested in 1996 and later found guilty of helping Dutroux hold his victims prisoner.

She was also convicted of complicity in the death of two of the small girls, found starved to death in a cellar in the southern city of Charleroi.

The case caused such disgust in Belgium that more than a third of Belgians with the surname 'Dutroux' applied to have their names changed.

'Dutroux should stay in jail': Protestors gathered outside the Belgian court to voice their fury at the prospect of the child killer - whose crimes horrified the country in the 1990s - being released early