Death toll rises to 3 in Utrecht shooting; terrorism seen as most likely motive

Death toll rises to 3 in Utrecht shooting; terrorism seen as most likely motive

Law enforcement hunts for suspect in tram attack, named by authorities as Turkey-born Gokman Tanis, 37

Special Police forces, police and medical experts work near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, where a shooting took place on March 18, 2019. (Ricardo Smit/ANP/AFP)
Special Police forces, police and medical experts work near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, where a shooting took place on March 18, 2019. (Ricardo Smit/ANP/AFP)

Three people were killed and nine injured in a shooting on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the mayor said Monday, adding that authorities were working on the basis of it being a terror attack.

“At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously,” Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter, increasing the toll that had previously stood at one dead.

Van Zanen said that “we cannot exclude, even stronger, we assume a terror motive. Likely there is one attacker, but there could be more.”

Earlier, Dutch police released a picture of a Turkey-born man they are hunting over the shooting.

“The police are asking you to look out for 37-year-old Gokman Tanis (born in Turkey) in connection with the incident this morning,” Utrecht police said on Twitter, adding: “Do not approach him.”

Armed counterterrorism police launched a huge manhunt for the attacker, urging residents in one of the Netherlands’ biggest cities to stay indoors in case of further incidents.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the incident, just days ahead of local elections, was “deeply disturbing” and police stepped up security at mosques and airports.

The head of the Dutch national counterterrorism service, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, told a brief news conference that there had been shooting at “several locations” but did not give further details.

“A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman,” he added.

The terror alert level in Utrecht was raised to maximum level five, he added.

Police later surrounded a building a few hundred meters away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

‘New incidents not excluded’

Police in Utrecht said the shooting took place on a tram in the 24 Oktoberplein area of the city.

One witness told NOS News they had seen an injured person running out of the tram with blood on her hands and clothes who then fell to the ground.

“I brought her into my car and helped her. When the police arrived, she was unconscious,” the witness, who was not named, told the broadcaster.

A body covered with a blanket next to a tram following a shooting in Utrecht, Netherlands, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

The Utrecht municipality said it advised “everyone to stay indoors until more is known. New incidents are not excluded.” The local hospital said it had set up a crisis center.

Local media showed photographs of masked, armed police and emergency vehicles surrounding a tram that had stopped near a road bridge.

Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Mosque security

The Dutch military police said they were on “high alert” and were boosting security at the airports and at other vital buildings in The Netherlands.

Mosques in Utrecht had shut for the day following the attack, the ANP news agency said, which comes just days after 50 people were killed at mosques in New Zealand in a rampage by an alleged white supremacist.

All major political parties including Rutte’s VVD announced that they were suspending campaigning ahead of Wednesday’s local elections, which will determine the makeup of the Dutch senate.

Rutte also canceled a meeting with his ruling coalition and was being briefed on the situation, officials said. He was due to give a short statement at 1 p.m. GMT.

An increased police presence could be seen outside the parliament and Rutte’s office in The Hague.

Police in the port city of Rotterdam said they had increased security outside mosques.

Police forces near a tram at the 24 Oktoberplace in Utrecht, on March 18, 2019 where a shooting took place. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT)

The Netherlands has been largely spared the kind of attacks that have rocked its closest European neighbors in the past few years, but there has been a series of recent scares.

In August, a 19-year-old Afghan with a German residence permit stabbed and injured two American tourists at Amsterdam’s busy Central Station before being shot and wounded.

In September, Dutch investigators said they had arrested seven people and foiled a “major attack” on civilians at a major event in the Netherlands. They said they had found a large quantity of bomb-making materials including fertilizer likely to be used in a car bomb. The men were arrested in the cities of Arnhem and Weert.

In June, two terror suspects were arrested while close to carrying out attacks including at an iconic bridge in Rotterdam and in France, prosecutors said. The men aged 22 and 28, who were of Moroccan origin, made a film at the Erasmus bridge in which they sang a martyrdom song, they said.

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