Handout still image taken from CCTV footage shows a man who has been named as a suspect in Monday’s shooting in Utrecht, Netherlands, in a still image from CCTV footage released by the Utrecht Police on March 18, 2019 REUTERS/Utrecht Police/Handout via Reuters
A gunman shot dead three people and wounded nine on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday and police said they were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man after an apparent terrorist attack. Dutch authorities raised the terrorism threat in Utrecht province to its highest level, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure and also at mosques.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident, which came three days after a lone gunman killed 50 people in mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. “Our country has today been shocked by an attack in Utrecht… A terrorist motive cannot be excluded,” Rutte said in a statement to the media. “The first reports have led to disbelief and disgust.
Innocent people have been struck by violence… We are now doing everything we can to find the perpetrator or perpetrators as soon as possible. That is now our complete focus.” The mayor of Utrecht, Jan van Zanen, said three people had been killed and nine injured, three of them seriously, in the tram incident. Dutch police identified the suspect as Turkish-born Gokmen Tanis. They issued an image of Tanis and warned the public not to approach him. They gave no further details.
Local broadcaster RTV Utrecht said the suspect had a long history of run-ins with the police for both minor and major crimes, including a shooting in 2013. Police spokesman Joost Lanshage, citing the investigation, declined to comment on the reports that Gokmen had a criminal record. The shooting took place in Kanaleneiland, a quiet residential district on the outskirts of Utrecht with a large immigrant population.
“It’s frightening that something like this can happen so close to home,” said Omar Rahhou, who said his parents lived on a street cordoned off by police. “These things normally happen far away but this brings it very close, awful.” The streets of Utrecht were emptier than usual and mosques in the city kept their doors closed on Monday, in part due to fears they might become targets following Friday’s mass killings in Christchurch. Police screened off the site where at least one body lay covered near the tram. The Algemeen Dagblad newspaper, quoting a witness of the incident, said the gunman had targeted a woman on the tram and then shot other people who had tried to help her.
Dutch television showed counter-terrorism units surrounding a house in Utrecht, but there was no official confirmation that the gunman might be inside. Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth largest city with a population of around 340,000, is known for its picturesque canals and large student population. Gun killings are rare in Utrecht, as elsewhere in the Netherlands.