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On March 18th, a lone gunman opened fire on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht, the fourth-most populous city in the Netherlands. The gunman killed three people and injured another nine, three of whom remain in critical condition.
This tram attack came just three days after a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and injuring another 50. As with New Zealand, the Netherlands’ rate of firearm homicides is among the lowest in any developed nation.
Upon the attack, the Netherlands raised its terror alert to five, its highest level, before lowering it to its standard level of four after arresting the suspect. While the terror alert was raised, Dutch authorities dispatched extra police to airports and other infrastructural touchpoints as well as mosques. Dutch schools were instructed to keep their doors closed at all times as well. The country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, immediately initiated crisis talks.
Police were quick to determine their main suspect, and they issued a public statement naming the perpetrator, sharing an image of him, and warning people to stay away from him should they see him. The suspect was arrested not long after thanks to this vigilance, but even before both this arrest and the police’s public statement, authorities conducted a counterterrorism raid at a house in Utrecht. There were reports of shots fired elsewhere in the hours before the suspect’s eventual arrest.
At the time of the arrest, Utrecht’s mayor, Jan van Zanen, said that there could be more people involved in the attack. Another person was indeed arrested the next day, but authorities have yet to conclusively link this person to the attack, saying that he at most supported the shooter without actively taking part in the attack. Investigators have even claimed that ample evidence points to the shooter being the lone culprit.
As of March 21st, Dutch prosecutors have officially claimed that the first suspect’s motivations were driven by terrorism. The day after the attack, investigators found a letter in the suspect’s getaway car that laid out terrorist ideals, but the exact content of the letter has yet to be revealed. Among the terrorism-related charges the prosecution is pressing are multiple murder or manslaughter with a terrorist intent and making threats with a terrorist intent; the suspect will also be charged with attempted murder or manslaughter.
The prosecution is determining whether the suspect has any history of mental illness or other personal problems that could have driven him toward violence. The Netherlands Institute for Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology is leading this portion of the investigation, and its workers will conduct a personality test on the suspect.
On March 22nd, the suspect is set to appear before a judge, presumably behind closed doors as is common in the Netherlands. The judge will determine the next steps to be taken regarding the terrorism-related charges against the suspect, who had no personal connection to any of the shooters. Also set for today is an evening-time silent march to commemorate the attack’s victims.