UTRECHT: A gunman opened fire on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday, killing three people and wounding several others in what officials said was a possible terrorist attack.
The city's mayor Jan van Zanen in a video statement released on Twitter said," At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously."
Armed counter-terrorism police launched a huge manhunt for the attacker, urging local residents in one of the Netherlands' biggest cities to stay indoors in case of further incidents. Police released a picture of the Turkish-born suspect, naming him as 37-year-old Gokman Tanis, and warning people not to approach him.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the incident, just days ahead of local elections, was "deeply disturbing" and police stepped up security at mosques and airports.
At least one person has been killed and several have been injured after a shooting on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht.— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 18, 2019
Follow this breaking story here as police investigate a 'possible terrorist motive': https://t.co/1L8eN8EDLu pic.twitter.com/dNtWwB634R
A body covered in a sheet could be seen on the tracks in Utrecht as armed police and emergency services swarmed around the scene, while helicopters hovered overhead.
"We cannot exclude a terrorist motive," the head of the Dutch national counter-terrorism service, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, told a brief news conference before rushing off for a crisis meeting.
Aalbersberg said there had been shooting at "several locations" but did not give further details.
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"A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman," he added.
The terror alert level in Utrecht was raised to maximum level five, he added.
Police later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.
Dutch police have released an image of a man they want to speak to after a shooting on a tram in Utrecht.— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 18, 2019
Follow live updates on this breaking story here: https://t.co/o5WmvUthse pic.twitter.com/I1gOr4zVrt
Police in Utrecht said the shooting took place on a tram in the 24 Oktoberplein area of the city and that "a possible terrorist motive is part of the investigation".
"Multiple people have been injured. The surrounding area has been cordoned off and we are investigating the matter... Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help."
#UPDATE A gunman opened fire on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht on Monday, killing at least one person and wounding several in what officials said was a possible terrorist incident. https://t.co/1FitYqObKS pic.twitter.com/fu5CR9WJDL— AFP News Agency (@AFP) March 18, 2019
One witness told NOS News they had seen an injured person running out of the tram with blood on her hands and clothes who then fell to the ground.
"I brought her into my car and helped her. When the police arrived, she was unconscious," the witness, who was not named, told the broadcaster.
The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known. New incidents are not excluded." The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre.
Local media showed photographs of masked, armed police and emergency vehicles surrounding a tram that had stopped near a road bridge. Tram traffic in the area was halted.
The Dutch military police said they were on "high alert" and were boosting security at the airports and at other vital buildings in The Netherlands.
One person has been killed and "multiple" people wounded in a shooting on a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Police have launched a manhunt for the shooter and say terrorism a possible motive. https://t.co/RyEtyWutVA— The Associated Press (@AP) March 18, 2019
Mosques in Utrecht had shut for the day following the attack, the ANP news agency said, which comes just days after 50 people were killed at mosques in New Zealand in a rampage by an alleged white supremacist.
All major political parties including Rutte's VVD announced that they were suspending campaigning ahead of Wednesday's local elections which will determine the make-up of the Dutch senate.
Rutte also cancelled a meeting with his ruling coalition and was being briefed on the situation, officials said. He was due to give a short statement at 1330 GMT.
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An increased police presence could be seen outside the parliament and Rutte's office in The Hague.
Police in the port city of Rotterdam said they had increased security outside mosques.
The Netherlands has been largely spared the kind of attacks which have rocked its closest European neighbours in the past few years, but there has been a series of recent scares.
In August, a 19-year-old Afghan with a German residence permit stabbed and injured two American tourists at Amsterdam's busy Central Station before being shot and wounded.
In September, Dutch investigators said they had arrested seven people and foiled a "major attack" on civilians at a major event in the Netherlands.
They said they had found a large quantity of bomb-making materials including fertiliser likely to be used in a car bomb. The men were arrested in the cities of Arnhem and Weert.
A manhunt is underway after a gunman opened fire inside a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht. One person is feared dead and several were wounded in the shooting incident, according to a police spokesman. @richardquest updates us from the scene: https://t.co/gU54lImTuO pic.twitter.com/pnJr6Z9aKD— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) March 18, 2019
In June, two terror suspects were arrested while close to carrying out attacks including at an iconic bridge in Rotterdam and in France, prosecutors said.
Shooting in #Netherlands:— Bushra Nasir Ahmed (@ainee_2010) March 18, 2019
Police says a shooting inside a tram which has injured multiple people in Dutch city of #Utrecht may have had a "terrorist motive".
1 dead after gunman opened fire inside tram, several injured. 😓 #TerrorismHasNoReligion#UnitedInPeace#Terrorism pic.twitter.com/1Jx8sacZRi
The men aged 22 and 28, who were of Moroccan origin, made a film at the Erasmus bridge in which they sang a martyrdom song, they said.
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