Dutch prosecutors consider 'terror motive' in tram shooting

AP , Tuesday 19 Mar 2019

Investigators probing the deadly tram shooting in the Dutch city of Utrecht sharpened their focus Tuesday on a possible extremist motive, as judicial authorities revealed that the main suspect was released from jail this month and faces a rape trial in July.

The nature of the Monday's attack and a note found in a suspected getaway car suggest a possible terror motive, prosecutors said in a statement, but they add that other possible reasons also are being investigated.

``Based on the letter, we think he had a terroristic motive,'' police spokesman Joost Lanshage told The Associated Press. He declined to elaborate.

Speaking in parliament, anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders said the note expressed support for the suspect's ``Muslim brothers.''

Prosecutors also said that investigations so far have not established any relationship at all between the main suspect, Gokmen Tanis, and the shooting victims.

Three people died: a 19-year-old woman from the neighboring town of Vianen, and two men aged 28 and 49 from Utrecht.

Three others were seriously wounded and four more suffered minor injuries, according to prosecutors.

Tanis, a 37-year-old man of Turkish descent, was being held on suspicion of ``manslaughter with terrorist intent.''

He was arrested Monday evening after an hours-long manhunt that nearly paralyzed the Netherlands' fourth-largest city and sent shockwaves through the nation. Police recovered a weapon when they arrested him.

In an unusual step, judicial authorities released details of Tanis' criminal past, and said he was recently released from jail and faces trial in July on a rape charge.

In the past, he was acquitted of manslaughter but convicted of illegal possession of a weapon and theft.

Wilders called on Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus to resign, saying that Tanis shouldn't have been released from jail.

``You are politically responsible for this,'' Wilders said during a parliamentary debate. ``You have to resign, get out of here.''

Police spokesman Martin de Wit said that three people _ the alleged shooter and two others whose involvement was being investigated _ were in custody following Monday's attack.

The tram shootings came just days after 50 people were killed when an immigrant-hating Australian white supremacist opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers. There was no indication of any link between the two events.

In a ceremonial session in parliament, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that because of the attack in Utrecht, ``we feel an even stronger bond with the people of Christchurch.''

He said the shooting ``was not a bad dream but the hard reality with which we woke up.''

Prosecutors were questioning all three suspects and it wasn't clear when Tanis would be brought before an investigating judge.

Such hearings are generally held to request suspects are detained for longer pending further investigations.

Members of the public and Utrecht's mayor on Tuesday placed flowers near the busy traffic intersection where the gunfire erupted Monday on a tram.

One bouquet carried a message in Dutch saying: ``We are sad and deeply shaken. Utrecht has been hit hard; straight through the heart. Strength!! Peace and Love.''

Dutch and Turkish media citing his neighbors in Utrecht have speculated that the shooting may have been linked to a relationship, but that appears increasingly unlikely after prosecutors said none of the victims were known to the main suspect.

Dutch media published details of two of the victims killed Monday _ the 19-year-old woman reportedly worked in a cafe in Vianen, and a father-of-three who volunteered as a soccer coach in Vleuten, a town west of Utrecht.

A phone call from The Associated Press to the cafe Tuesday morning went unanswered.

The soccer club posted a message saying they heard ``with great dismay and astonishment'' that the trainer of an under-19 boys' team and under-11 girls' team died in the shooting.

Dutch railroad infrastructure company ProRail confirmed that one of its employees was among the dead.

``The terrible events of yesterday and the loss of our colleague have hit us hard,'' CEO Pier Eringa said in a statement.

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