UTRECHT, Netherlands: Dutch prosecutors and police said 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.
Turkish-born main suspect Gokmen Tanis, 37, and two unnamed men from Utrecht aged 23 and 27 remain in custody. Police found a red Renault Clio after Monday’s attack which they said he had used to flee.
The suspect of the shooting at the #24oktoberplein was arrested at the Oudenoord in Utrecht. Earlier the police published information and a photo of this same person.— Politie Utrecht (@PolitieUtrecht) March 18, 2019
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.
“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.
Authorities earlier raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.
Utrecht Police had earlier tweeted an image of Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.
The police asks you to look out for the 37 year old Gökman Tanis (born in Turkey) associated with the incident this morning at the #24oktoberplein in #Utrecht. Do not approach him but call 0800-6070. pic.twitter.com/U1IWEDtUYu— Politie Utrecht (@PolitieUtrecht) March 18, 2019
The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.
A shooting occurred on the #24oktoberplein in #Utrecht. The incident has been reported at 10.45 hour. Multiple people have been injured. The surrounding area has been cordoned off and we are investigating the matter.— Politie Utrecht (@PolitieUtrecht) March 18, 2019
NCTV is monitoring the situation in #Utrecht. In close contact with local authorities. We cannot rule out terrorist motive. Crisis team is activated— PJ Aalbersberg NCTV (@PJAalbersberg) March 18, 2019
The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop.
(With AFP and Reuters)