UTRECHT – Police in the Netherlands have arrested a Turkish born Muslim suspected of shooting dead three people and wounding five on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday.
Police said the suspect, 37-year-old Gokmen Tanis, had been taken into custody after an hours-long manhunt and had earlier run-ins with authorities in the Netherlands.
The city was put into lock-down after the shooting, shortly after the morning rush hour, which authorities initially said was an apparent terrorist attack. Police conducted raids in several locations after issuing an image of Tanis and warning the public not to approach him.
But hours after the shooting, the gunman’s motive remained unclear. A prosecutor said it could be for “family reasons” and Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, quoting relatives of the gunman, said he had fired at a relative on the tram and had then shot at others who tried to help her.
The Turkish intelligence agency said it is investigating whether the attack was personally motivated or an act of terrorism, President Tayyip Erdogan said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Dutch authorities had raised the terrorism threat in Utrecht province to its highest level, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports, other vital infrastructure and at mosques.
The threat level was reduced by one notch to where it had been after the suspect was arrested, the National Counter-Terrorism Agency said.
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, New Zealand.
“Our country has today been shocked by an attack in Utrecht… A terrorist motive cannot be excluded,” Rutte said. “The first reports have led to disbelief and disgust. Innocent people have been struck by violence.”
The mayor of Utrecht, Jan van Zanen, said three people had been killed and five injured, three of them critically.
The suspect had previously been arrested, regional prosecutor Rutger Jeuken told reporters, without giving further details, however a local business man told BBC News that suspect had previously been arrested for membership in the Islamic State (ISIS) and was later released.
The shooting took place in Kanaleneiland, a quiet residential district on the outskirts of Utrecht with a large immigrant population.
“It’s frightening that something like this can happen so close to home,” said Omar Rahhou, who said his parents lived on a street cordoned off by police. “These things normally happen far away but this brings it very close, awful.”
Witness Daan Molenaar, who said he had been sitting at the front of the tram when the shooting started, told national broadcaster NOS he did not believe it was a terrorist attack.
“The first thing I thought was, this is some kind of revenge or something, or somebody who’s really mad and grabbed a pistol,” he said.
By Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch