Utrecht shooting: Dutch town waits for answers after deadly tram attack

Jon Stone
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Utrecht shooting: Dutch town waits for answers after deadly tram attack

As night fell on Utrecht there was still no confirmation of the motive for the killing of three people on a tram in the Dutch city on Monday.

With the earlier lockdown and advice to stay inside lifted, people were calm as they went about their business just a short walk from where the slayings happened.

The response from locals contrasted with that of the international media – which is on a worldwide hair trigger after the mass shooting of 50 people in New Zealand on Friday. I saw reporters and camera crews from France and Belgium packed on to my train to Utrecht, tripods and cameras in tow.

But the only clue of what had happened when we arrived at Utrecht central station was the presence of black-clad armed police, decked out in full tactical gear and with sub-machine guns at the ready. They were clearly there for reassurance, rather than on high alert: four were tucking into a well-earned dinner at the station’s Burger King.

Police elsewhere in the city had already arrested Gokmen Tanis, a 37-year-old Turkish national suspected of carrying out the killings. He had been taken into custody after a city-wide manhunt and early reports that there might be multiple shooters on the loose.

The tram line running past the station on which the attack happened was silent on Monday evening. The reason was clear further up the road, at the 24 Oktoberplein junction, the site of the killings.

The tram stop in question is effectively a massive urban motorway junction on the city’s inner ring road, isolated from the centre. It is criss-crossed by slip roads and bike paths and has a distinctly out-of-town feel.

Well past nightfall police continued a painstaking investigation – the tram visible and lit up beyond a very wide security cordon. Save for the occasional TV crew lighting up the night nearby, the area was remarkably quiet and people mostly stayed away.

Earlier in the day things had not been so quiet, when a man started “shooting wildly” on a tram, according to eyewitnesses who spoke to local media.

“I looked behind me and saw someone lying there behind the tram,” one told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “People got out of their cars and they started to lift her up.”

“I helped to pull her out and then I saw a gunman run towards us, with his gun raised. I heard people yell ‘Shooter! Shooter!’ and I started to run.”

As well as the three people confirmed dead, five were injured, some critically, Dutch authorities say.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said “a terror motive is not excluded” and went on to say the attack was met throughout the country with “a mix of disbelief and disgust”.

“If it is a terror attack, then we have only one answer: our nation, democracy, must be stronger than fanaticism and violence,” he added.

But authorities are approaching the case with an open mind, with conflicting reports from Turkish media suggesting that the attack may have been been triggered by a family dispute.

The Netherlands’ justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus later confirmed that the suspect arrested had a criminal record, but warned against early speculation about his alleged motives.

“It is important that now the independent investigation will thoroughly go through” the evidence, he said.