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World & Nation

Tram shooting investigators say note in suspected getaway car suggests terrorism

A forensic expert looks for clues in a house where the suspect of a shooting incident was arrested i
A forensics expert examines the house where a suspect in a deadly tram attack was arrested in Utrecht, Netherlands, on March 18.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

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

The nature of Monday’s attack and a note found in a suspected getaway car suggest terrorism as a possible motive, prosecutors said in a statement, but they said other possible reasons also were 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.”

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Prosecutors also said investigations so far had not established any relationship 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, ages 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.”

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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 would face 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.

Police spokesman Martin de Wit said three people — the shooting suspect and two others whose involvement was being investigated — were in custody following Monday’s attack.

Ambulances are parked next to a tram after a shooting incident in Utrecht, Netherlands, Monday, Marc
Ambulances are parked next to a tram after a gunman opened fire, killing three, in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Monday.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

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

In a ceremonial session in parliament on Tuesday, Dutch 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.”

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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 be detained 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.

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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 the suspect’s neighbors in Utrecht, have speculated that the shooting may have been linked to a relationship, but prosecutors said they had found no links between the victims and the main suspect.

Dutch media published details of two of the victims killed Monday — a 19-year-old woman who 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.

The soccer club posted a message saying it had learned “with great dismay and astonishment” that the trainer of an under-19 boys’ team and under-11 girls’ team died in the shooting.

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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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