Populist party leaders blame PM Rutte for Utrecht shooting in last election debate

On Tuesday evening the 13 political party leaders responded to the shooting in Utrecht, in which three people were killed and three seriously injured, at the start of the last political debate before the Provincial States elections on Wednesday. PVV leader Geert Wilders and FvD leader Thierry Baudet decided to use their moment to blame the attack on Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) and CDA leader Sybrand Buma, linking the shooting to the Netherlands' immigration and integration policy, NOS reports.

Wilders said he regrets the events in Utrecht, but reprimanded Rutte and Buma for their "crocodile tears". He holds them responsible for what happened. "Whether that's nice or not", he said. FvD leader Baudet agreed, calling for an end to the policy of open borders. 

GroenLinks leader Jessy Klaver immediately called these statements inappropriate. He accused Baudet and Wilders of trying to build political capital out of the tragic events. Rutte did not have the chance to respond immediately, but did so at the start of his debate with SP leader Lilian Marijnissen about healthcare. The Prime Minister called Wilders and Baudet's words unacceptable. He also said he finds it unacceptable that they seize the shooting in Utrecht to turn people against each other.

Marijnissen called it "a strong signal that we are here" at the political debate following the shooting. "Democracy does not bow to terror", she said. Klaver called the events in Utrecht "a nightmare". PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher complimented Prime Minister Rutte for his actions on Monday. "I hope that the whole of the Netherlands opts for connection instead of division", he said. SGP leader Kees van der Staaij said that his "thoughts and prayers" are with the victims and their loved ones. "It shows how vulnerable our lives are and how relative our political plans are", he said.

The shooting on 24 Oktoberplein again became a topic of discussion when D66 leader Rob Jetten confronted Wilders about the PVV leader's statement that "Islam does not belong in the Netherlands". "These are terrible tragedies, but you should not lump everyone together", Jetten said. Wilders said that there are moderate Muslims, but that Islam itself is not moderate. He disputed Jetten's statement that he held all Muslims in the Netherlands responsible for Monday's shooting. 

Jetten said he thinks Islam has nothing to do with the shooting. Wilders pointed out to him that, according to witnesses, the perpetrator shouted 'Allahu akbar' and that a letter was found in the getaway car with statements about solidarity between Muslims. 

At around 10:45 a.m. on Monday a man opened fire on a tram on 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht, killing three people and injuring five, three of whom seriously. After an hours long manhunt, three men were arrested, including suspected gunman Gokmen T. The two other suspects were released again on Tuesday and are no longer considered suspects in this case. A fourth man was arrested on Tuesday afternoon. He and T. are still in custody.

The police and Public Prosecutor are still investigating the motive for the shooting. They are looking into whether this was a terrorist attack, but also considering other motives. The authorities confirmed that a letter was found in suspected gunman Gokmen T.'s getaway car, but said nothing about what the letter contained. Though the Prosecutor did say that terrorism is currently still considered the most likely motive, due to the letter and the fact that no link has been found between T. and the victims

On Wednesday the Netherlands is electing the members of the Provincial States as well as waterboards. Over 10 thousand polling stations are open across the country, and some 13 million Dutch can cast their vote. The members of the Provincial States will determine the composition of the Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate, in May.