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Tram shooting in Holland in possible terrorist attack

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Armed police at the scene where a shooting took place in the Dutch city of Utrecht on March 18. Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht.

Utrecht, Netherlands

A SHOOTING attack on Monday in the Dutch city of Utrecht that left three people dead and nine injured was being investigated as a possible case of terrorism, authorities said, and police were focusing their hunt on a gunman who escaped the scene.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter. "We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had earlier said there were "possible deaths" and that a terrorist motive was "not excluded".

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The Netherlands' main counterterrorism agency raised its assessment of the threat in Utrecht province, just south-east of Amsterdam, to the highest level and said it had activated a crisis team. The Dutch paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure points.

Utrecht police said they were looking for Gokman Tanis, 37, who was born in Turkey. They did not call him a suspect, but said he was "associated with the incident," and warned people not to approach him.

All the mosques in Utrecht were ordered evacuated and security was increased at mosques elsewhere in the Netherlands. It was not clear whether those moves stemmed from a clear anti-Muslim threat, or if they were a precaution in the wake of the attacks on mosques last week in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 50 people. The attack took place in the Kanaleneiland neighbourhood in Utrecht, which is home to a large Muslim community, but it was not clear whether that influenced the decision of gunman to open fire when and where he did.

"It could point at a jihadist motive, because of the large number of Dutch people with Moroccan roots who live there," said Bart Schuurman, an assistant professor at Leiden University, who researches terrorism in the Netherlands. "But it could as well be chosen by a right-extremist just because of those demographics. Or it could have nothing to do with terrorism." Unlike Britain, Belgium, France and Germany, the Netherlands has not had a major terrorist attack in recent years. But Dutch police said in September that they had foiled "very advanced" plans for a coordinated series of attacks, arresting seven men and seizing guns and bomb-making materials. NYTIMES, AFP