Dutch prosecutors seek life term for alleged tram shooter

Dutch prosecutors have demanded a life sentence for an alleged terrorist accused of opening fire in and around a tram in the central city of Utrecht last year, killing four people and wounding three more

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Dutch prosecutors on Thursday demanded a life sentence for an alleged terrorist accused of opening fire in and around a tram in the central city of Utrecht last year, killing four people and wounding three more.

In a statement summing up their case, prosecutors said the defendant, 38-year-old Gokmen Tanis, a Dutch man of Turkish descent, “fundamentally eroded the feeling of security for many people in the Netherlands with his attack.”

Prosecutors say Tanis walked into a tram, pulled out a pistol with a silencer attached, and started shooting passengers from close range on March 18 last year while shouting “Allahu akbar” or “Allah akbar.” Three passengers were killed.

Prosecutors say he then jumped out, walked past cars stopped at traffic lights and shot a motorist, who died some 10 days later.

Thea Terpstra, whose brother Rinke was killed in the shooting, had watched the proceedings as the trial opened Monday from the public gallery, sitting a few meters (feet) behind the suspect.

"I want a life sentence. Preferably a double life sentence, but that doesn't exist here," she said outside court.

During his trial this week, Tanis was removed from court for showing disrespect to judges, families of his victims and even for spitting at his court-appointed lawyer. He steadfastly refused to answer any questions put to him by the presiding judge.

Prosecutors said that while tests had established that Tanis had a personality disorder and low IQ that could lead to mitigation of any sentence, his acts and “total absence of remorse” led them to ask for the most serious sentence available under Dutch law.

Judges are expected to hear submissions from Tanis' lawyer before retiring to consider a verdict.

The Dutch terror threat level in Utrecht was briefly raised to the highest level and people were warned to stay indoors as police swarmed through the city hunting down the shooter. Tanis was arrested in Utrecht hours after the shooting.

Prosecutors said last year that he confessed to the shooting and left a hand-written note in a getaway car that said in Dutch: “I’m doing this for my religion. You kill Muslims and you want to take our religion away from us, but you won’t succeed. Allah is great.”

Prosecutors last year described Tanis as a repeat offender, a drug user and “difficult person,” but said their previous investigations had not uncovered evidence he was plotting a terror attack.

Statements from family members read out in court cast him as a “part-time Muslim” who would sometimes drink alcohol, take drugs and gamble.