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Letter in Dutch suspect’s getaway car suggests terror motive: prosecutors

Reports had previously suggested tram shooting was a family feud; Utrecht police arrest two in addition to suspected gunman

Flowers have been set up in tribute to victims at the site of a shooting in a tram, at 24 October square in Utrecht, on March 19, 2019, one day after three people were shot dead and several were injured in the attack. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)
Flowers have been set up in tribute to victims at the site of a shooting in a tram, at 24 October square in Utrecht, on March 19, 2019, one day after three people were shot dead and several were injured in the attack. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

UTRECHT, Netherlands — Dutch prosecutors and police said Tuesday that they were “seriously” investigating a terrorist motive for the Utrecht tram attack because of evidence including a letter found in the main suspect’s getaway car.

“So far, a terrorist motive is seriously being taken into account. This is based on a letter found in the getaway car among other things and the nature of the facts,” they said in a joint statement.

Dutch police said late on Monday that they had arrested two people in connection with the rampage, in addition to the Turkish-born main suspect in the rampage, but gave no further details about them. All three were questioned Tuesday by police.

Gokmen Tanis, 37, was arrested after a massive eight-hour manhunt on Monday following the shooting in which three people were killed and five others injured.

Police found a red Renault Clio after Monday’s attack which they said Tanis had used to flee.

The three people who died in the shooting were a 19-year-old woman from Vianen, which is near Utrecht, and two men aged 28 and 49 from Utrecht itself, the statement said.

Suspected gunman Gokmen Tanis, 37, on March 18, 2019. Police believe he carried out a deadly shooting on a city tram that day. (Police Utrecht on Twitter, via AP)

“So far our investigation has established no link between the main suspect and the victims,” police and prosecutors added.

Dutch and Turkish media reports had previously reported that a family dispute may have been the motive for the shooting.

However the police and prosecutors said that “other motives are not excluded, they are also being investigated.”

Armed police arrested Tanis in Utrecht after a huge manhunt on Monday during which police released his picture on social media.

“A firearm was found during his arrest,” the statement added.

Mourners began to lay flowers on Tuesday at the site of the attack near the 24 Oktoberplein square in memory of the victims.

Flags were flying half-staff on many buildings around the country.

The Dutch flag is raised half-mast in front of the Ministry of General Affairs in Binnenhof building in The Hague, on March 19, 2019, a day after a shooting in a tram that killed 3 people. (Photo by Bart Maat / ANP / AFP)

Public transportation was running again after forensic police finished their investigations at the scene and removed the tram on which the shooting erupted.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was chairing a cabinet meeting on the attack, which has raised security fears a day before provincial elections in the Netherlands.

Dutch media have reported that Tanis had a long criminal background and was only released from jail two weeks ago on a number of charges.

The mayor of Utrecht Jan van Zanen (R) arrives to lay flowers near the scene of the fatal shooting at 24 Oktoberplein (October square), in Utrecht, on March 19, 2019, the day after three people were shot dead and several were injured in a shooting on a tram. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

Broadcaster NOS reported that some members of his families had links to fundamentalist Islamic groups, but also that he was known for unstable behavior after divorcing his wife two years ago.

Police and witnesses say gunfire broke out on the tram on Monday morning, sending people fleeing and triggering a huge police response.

Mosques and schools were closed across the Netherlands’ fourth-largest city following the bloodshed, before heavily armed officers surrounded a building and arrested Tanis.

Support for the Netherlands poured in from around the world including the United States, the EU and Russia after the attack.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “America stands with you. We will continue to do all we can to help you in this terrible time of tragedy.”

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