Gökmen Tanis, 37, has been arrested in connection to a deadly mass shooting on a tram car in Utrecht, Netherlands. The attack happened around 10:45 a.m. local time on March 18, 2019, near the 24 Oktoberplein stop.
Three people are dead and at least five others were injured, according to Utrecht police. They had originally stated that nine people had been wounded. The mayor of Utrecht, Jan van Zanen, first confirmed the number of fatalities in a social media announcement.
During a late afternoon news conference, officials confirmed that Tanis, an immigrant from Turkey, had been apprehended. Police said he was “detained during a raid on The Old Town In Utrecht.” Two additional suspects were also detained.
Officials said they were investigating the shooting as a potential terror attack. But police spokesman Bernard Jens said it’s possible the suspect could have been targeting someone he knew personally, according to Dutch television station NOS.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. A Witness Told Police it Appeared the Gunman Targeted a Woman & Then Shot at Anyone Who Tried to Help Her
A witness identified as Daan Molenaar by English-languaging Dutch site NLTimes said he was on a tram when the attack began. He said he saw a woman lying on the road outside the tram. He told NOS that he thought she had perhaps been run over. People leaving the cars tried to help her.
Molenaar claims that he next saw a man approach the group armed with a gun. He said it appeared as if the gunman “wanted to catch that person again, or maybe the people who were helping her.”
He described a chaotic scene after gunshots began firing. Molenaar explained that the conductor opened the doors and the passengers jumped out and either ran or hid behind the tram cars.
The website attributed another witness who also claimed that she saw a man “with a big gun” on the tram. She said the man stood up and began firing at the people around him.
The NLTimes also quoted a witness named Jimmy de Koster who said he was waiting to cross the street when the attack happened. He confirmed that he also saw a young woman lying in the road and that he heard gunshots. Koster said at least four men ran to help the woman but that they let her go after hearing more gunshots.
A Turkish news site called the Anadolu Agency suggested that the shooting was prompted by some sort of family dispute. The news outlet claimed to have spoken to relatives of Gokmen Tanis, who claimed that he had shot a family member “and those trying to help due to family matters.” It’s important to stress that law enforcement has not yet commented on a motive.
The victims have not yet been publicly named. But Utrecht police did release their ages on March 19. They shared in a tweet that the three fatalities included a 19-year-old woman from Vianen and two men from Utrecht, ages 28 and 49.
The Utrecht police acknowledged that there could be multiple possible motives for the shooting. They stated on Twitter that they are investigating all possible angles and not excluding anything.
2. Gökmen Tanis Was an Immigrant From Turkey & Had Reportedly Not Spoken With His Family There in Several Years
Gökmen Tanis was originally from the city of Yozgat in Turkey. The director of the Netherlands Yozgat Federation, Zeki Baran, told the New York Times, “We don’t know much about him, except for that his father told us that he had not been in touch with his family for a long time.”
A former co-worker of Tanis’ named Zabit Elmaci told the Times that Tanis got into trouble often. He said they stopped spending time together after he said Tanis began “acting weird” about two years prior.
3. Reports: Gokmen Tanis Has a History of Prior Arrests & Was in Court Two Weeks Prior to the Tram Attack For a Rape Case
Dutch news outlet Utrechts Nieuwsblad was the first to report that Gokmen Tanis had been in court two weeks prior to today’s shooting in Utrecht. Reporter Yelle Tieleman shared that Tanis had been “before the judge because of a rape case.” It was not immediately clear if the two cases were related.
Tieleman also shared on social media that Tanis was reportedly involved in another shooting in 2013 on Channel Island, Citing court records, the reporter stated that Tanis had a “considerable” number of past offenses including for alleged rape, theft and acts of violence.
RTV Utrecht, a television and radio outlet in Utrect, is also reporting that Tanis has a lengthy criminal history. The station alleges that Tanis was previously accused of “attempted manslaughter” and for non-violent offenses including burglary, bicycle theft and threatening a police officer. The Utrecht police have not confirmed these allegations.
4. Utrecht Police Investigated a Carjacking That Occurred Just Before the Shooting Started
The Utrecht police said that a carjacking had occurred before the shooting on the tram. Officials shared on social media that a Red Renault Clio vehicle had been stolen about a mile away from the scene of the shooting. The vehicle was later located on Tichelaars Avenue, in a suburban area a few miles away from the scene.
Police stated in a news release that clues found inside the vehicle helped investigators in their search for Tanis. but did not go into greater detail.
5. Officials Temporarily Raised the Terrorism Threat Level in Utrecht to its Highest Level
The terrorism threat level in Utrecht was raised to its highest level, a 5, shortly after the shooting on the tram. Prime Minister Mark Rutte earlier told NLTimes, an English language outlet in the Netherlands, that the increased threat level would remain in effect until at least 6 p.m. local time. A level 5 threat goes into effect after an attack and when there are valid concerns of another attack happening. The threat level was downgraded to a 4 after Tanis was arrested.
Rutte stated that it was possible the attack was terror-related, but investigators were still working to determine that. The Associated Press quoted Rutte as saying, “if it is terror attack then we have only one answer: our nation, democracy must be stronger that fanaticism and violence.”
The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, expressed his support for the people of the Netherlands following the attack. He shared on Twitter, “I have just spoken with @markrutte to get an update of the situation in #Utrecht. The #EU stands side by side with the #Netherlands and its people during these difficult times. My thoughts are with the wounded and their families.”
Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, tweeted, “I stand by the families of the victims of the Utrecht shooting and the Dutch authorities. Europe must be united in the face of violence and attacks on our citizens.”
The Dutch monarchs were also quick to respond to reports of the shooting. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima released a statement, which was published by Dutch television station NOS. Translated into English by Google, it reads, “We are deeply saddened that three people died in an attack in Utrecht and others were seriously injured. We are deeply sympathetic to the victims and their families. Let us stand united and stand together for a society in which people can feel safe and in which freedom and tolerance prevail. We are grateful to all aid workers who are currently working for those affected. We are in mind of the residents of Utrecht.”
French president Emmanuel Macron wrote in a translated tweet, “Always the same bloody violence that we do not get used to, that we will never be resigned to. Thoughts for the victims and families of Utrecht. We are by your side in mourning and determination to fight against those who want to impose terror.”
As of 8 a.m. on March 19, President Donald Trump had not yet issued a statement on the Dutch attack.