Utrecht tram shooting: Dutch prosecutors probe terror motive in fatal attack

Police officers at the building in Utrecht on Monday where Gokmen Tanis, the main suspect in the shooting in the Dutch city on the same day, was arrested after a seven-hour manhunt. Flowers placed yesterday at the site of Monday's shooting in Utrecht
Flowers placed yesterday at the site of Monday's shooting in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Three people were killed and five wounded in the incident that took place on a tram just after the morning rush hour.PHOTO: REUTERS
Police officers at the building in Utrecht on Monday where Gokmen Tanis, the main suspect in the shooting in the Dutch city on the same day, was arrested after a seven-hour manhunt. Flowers placed yesterday at the site of Monday's shooting in Utrecht
Police officers at the building in Utrecht on Monday where Gokmen Tanis, the main suspect in the shooting in the Dutch city on the same day, was arrested after a seven-hour manhunt.PHOTO: REUTERS

Turkish-born man arrested; role of 2 others in custody unclear

AMSTERDAM • Dutch prosecutors yesterday said they were investigating a possible terrorist motive behind the shooting on a tram in the city of Utrecht in which three people were killed and five wounded.

A Turkish-born man, 37-year-old Gokmen Tanis, was arrested after a seven-hour manhunt on Monday by security forces and remained in custody.

Prosecutors said he is suspected of three fatal shootings, possibly with terrorist intent. Two other suspects were also in custody, police said, but their role was unclear.

"Up to this point, a terrorist motive is seriously being considered," prosecutors said in a statement, citing "the nature of the shooting and a letter found in the getaway car".

But it remained unclear whether Tanis was acting on political beliefs or a personal vendetta.

"Other motives are not being ruled out," the statement said.

Tanis has a history of run-ins with law enforcement. He was convicted of illegal weapons possession in 2014 and of shoplifting and burglary earlier this month.

  • RUN-INS WITH THE LAW

  • 2013

    Gokmen Tanis is convicted of attempted murder.

    2014

    Convicted of illegal weapons possession.

    March 1, 2019

    Released from custody after having been detained on suspicion of rape.

    March 2019

    Convicted of shoplifting and burglary.

He was released from custody on March 1, after having been detained on suspicion of rape, the Utrecht District Court said in a statement after his arrest on Monday.

He is due to appear in court in July in relation to the rape charge, it said.

Under Dutch law, Tanis must be brought before a judge by tomorrow but does not yet have to be charged.

Flags flew at half mast on government buildings across the Netherlands yesterday in tribute to the victims as mourners laid flowers at the site of the attack.

The three Dutch victims were identified as a 19-year-old woman and two men aged 28 and 49. Three others, ranging from 20 to 74 years old, were critically hurt in the shooting.

Prosecutors said they had so far not been able to establish a connection between the victims and the suspected gunman.

"It's very sad things like this happen in the world these days," said accountant Rene van Nieuwenhuizen, who lives in Utrecht, a picturesque city of 340,000. "I don't think it will happen to me but it happens and so people get killed."

Mr Mahmut Tanis, an uncle of Tanis who lives in the Netherlands, told Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency that he doubted radical motives. "Looking at my nephew's condition, the possibility that what he did was a terror attack is low," he said, adding he had not seen him in years and his actions could stem from "matters of the heart".

Turkish media, citing the alleged gunman's relatives, said that the shooting may have been a result of a "family dispute".

Tanis had previously been arrested, prosecutors said. There was no immediate comment from Tanis or any lawyer representing him.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks immediately after the incident, which came three days after a lone gunman killed 50 people in mass shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand.

 
 

Utrecht went into lockdown in the aftermath of Monday's shooting on a tram just after the morning rush hour.

London, Paris and several other European cities have suffered militant attacks over the past years that have killed hundreds of people, and their authorities are on high alert.

Public transport in Utrecht was running again yesterday after forensic police finished their investigations and removed the tram on which the shooting erupted.

Support for the Netherlands poured in from around the world, including the United States, European Union and Russia, after the attack. "America stands with you. We will continue to do all we can to help you in this terrible time of tragedy," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2019, with the headline 'Dutch prosecutors probe terror motive in fatal attack '. Print Edition | Subscribe