Dutch MPs honor victims of Utrecht & Christchurch shootings; Election campaigns restart

Campaign billboard for the Provincial States election on Muntplein in Amsterdam, 19 March 2019
Campaign billboard for the Provincial States election on Muntplein in Amsterdam, 19 March 2019 . (Photo: NL Times)

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, held a moment of silence on Tuesday afternoon to commemorate the three victims killed in a shooting on 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht on Monday. The President of the Tweede Kamer, Khadija Arib, opened Tuesday's weekly question and answer session speaking in honor of the victims in Utrecht and also the fifty people killed in a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

"Suddenly the images we previously saw from attacks in Brussels, London and Paris were about our own Utrecht," Arib said. "It could have been any of us, in that tram, on the way to school or work. It makes us angry and scared."

The Netherlands and New Zealand are linked by the "grief from the utter futility of violence. Despite the distance, we are united in a sense of horror," Prime Minister Mark Rutte said following Arib's statement.

A minute of silence was then respected in Parliament before Arib's gavel signaled a start to the session.

As the session began, far right wing PVV leader Geert Wilders called for the resignation of Justice and Security Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus following the minister's first remarks to parliament about the shooting in Utrecht. Wilders lashed out at him over the fact that the Utrecht shooting suspect, Gokmen T., was out on the street even after repeated convictions for criminal offenses and a pending rape trial.

Grapperhaus denied that he was sweeping anything under the rug, as Wilders accused. He pledged to be as transparent as possible without compromising the investigation, as a motive was not conclusively determined.

Another far-right leader, FvD's Thierry Baudet, attacked Grapperhaus for the lack of information available about the victims in the shooting. "The victims are more important than news gathering," Grapperhaus replied after discussing the issue of privacy.

The rhetoric demonstrated that political campaigns for the Provincial elections on Wednesday were restarting. Representatives of the political parties pledged an adjusted tone to their campaigns, according to NOS, though several politicians pressed Grapperhaus hard along their party lines. The campaigns had been halted on Monday in response to the shooting.

On Wednesday the Netherlands will elect the members of the Provincial States, who in turn will determine the composition of the Eerse Kamer, the Dutch Senate, in May.  However it was also somewhat up for question whether or not the election debate on NOS would take place as planned on Tuesday evening, or if it would be canceled due to the mass shooting.

A man opened fire on a tram on 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht on Monday morning, and the prime suspect was allegedly behind a carjacking that initiated the day's events. Three people were killed and several injured, three of whom seriously. Three suspects, including alleged gunman Gokmen T., were arrested. 

The three arrests followed a seven-hour manhunt that effectively shut down the city of Utrecht. It started with a carjacking just before the 10:45 a.m. shooting, and ended with the arrest of Gökmen T. His arrest was announced at the end of a press conference around 6:30 p.m.

On Tuesday the Public Prosecutor announced that the investigation so far revealed no links between T. and the victims. Terrorism is therefore still the most prominent motive, though other motives are also being investigated.