Prosecutors probe terror motive for Utrecht tram shooting after note found in getaway car

Construction workers who witnessed the tram shooting leave flowers at the site in Utrecht. Picture by Peter Dejong/AP
Construction workers who witnessed the tram shooting leave flowers at the site in Utrecht. Picture by Peter Dejong/AP Construction workers who witnessed the tram shooting leave flowers at the site in Utrecht. Picture by Peter Dejong/AP

Dutch prosecutors are taking seriously the possibility that the deadly shooting on a tram in the central city of Utrecht was an act of terror.

The nature of Monday's attack and a note found in a suspected getaway car suggest a possible terror motive, prosecutors said, but they add that other possible motives also are being investigated.

They did not elaborate on what was written in the note.

The statement said investigations have not established any relationship between the main suspect, Gokmen Tanis, and the victims.

Prosecutors confirmed the deaths of three people: a 19-year-old woman from the neighbouring town of Vianen and two men aged 28 and 49, both from Utrecht.

Three others were seriously wounded and four suffered light injuries, they said.

Tanis, a 37-year-old of Turkish descent, is being held on suspicion of "manslaughter with terrorist intent", although authorities have not ruled out other possible motives.

He was arrested on Monday evening after an hours-long manhunt that nearly paralysed the Netherlands' fourth-largest city and sent shockwaves through the country.

Prosecutors said officers recovered a weapon during the arrest.

Officials said Tanis has a long criminal record in the Netherlands involving a variety of offences, although none were terror-related.

Dutch courts said he was accused of rape in 2017. He was jailed from August to September 2017 and then again from January 4 this year because he refused to work with authorities investigating the case. He was released on March 1 after pledging to co-operate. His trial is scheduled for July 15.

He was also convicted in March of shoplifting and burglary in 2018. He was handed a prison sentence of four months for the burglary and a week for the shop theft, but has not served any time yet.

In 2014, he was acquitted of manslaughter but convicted of illegal weapon possession and attempted theft.

Police spokesman Martin de Wit said two other people are in custody following the tram attack.

Prosecutors are questioning all three suspects.

The Dutch parliament held a moment of silence to remember the victims of the attack.

Referring to the mosque shootings in New Zealand, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: "Because of what happened in Utrecht we feel an even stronger bond with the people of Christchurch.

"It was not a bad dream but the hard reality with which we woke up. This really hit our confidence and our sense of security."

Members of the public and Utrecht's mayor on Tuesday placed flowers near the busy traffic junction where the attack unfolded.

While the investigation appears to be increasingly focused on a terrorist motive, authorities have not ruled out other possibilities.

Dutch and Turkish media, citing the suspect's neighbours in Utrecht, have speculated that the shooting may have been linked to a relationship, but that appears increasingly unlikely after prosecutors said none of the victims were known to the main suspect.

Dutch media published details of two of the victims. The 19-year-old woman reportedly worked in a cafe in Vianen, and one of the men was a father-of-three who volunteered as a football coach in Vleuten, a town west of Utrecht.

The football club posted a message saying it heard "with great dismay and astonishment" that the trainer of an under-19 boys' team and under-11 girls' team died in the shooting.