Serbia’s Vucic promises justice after two mass shootings in days
At least 17 people, including eight children, killed in separate tragedies – a school shooting and drive-by attack.
Two mass shootings in two days in Serbia, where such tragedies are rare, have sent the country and surrounding Balkan region into a state of shock.
Late on Thursday, at least eight people were killed and 14 wounded after a 21-year-old suspect in a moving car opened fire on passers-by in a town south of Belgrade.
A day earlier, a 13-year-old suspect carried out an attack that officials say he had planned for months, killing eight of his schoolmates and a security guard.
On Friday, waking up to the news of the drive-by attack, Serbia entered an official three-day mourning period to pay tribute to Wednesday’s child victims.
“There will be justice. These monsters will never see the light of the day, neither the little monster nor the little older monster,” President Aleksandar Vucic said, as he deplored Thursday’s “terrorist attack” and proposed tough new gun controls.
In a sombre national address, President Vucic, wearing a dark suit, said the gunman had been wearing a T-shirt with neo-Nazi symbols.
He gave no further details about the shootings.
Vucic proposed a moratorium on gun permits regardless of weapon type, in what he called a “practical disarmament” of Serbia that would also include more frequent medical and psychological checks of gun owners.
The government would also hire 1,200 new police officers to improve security in schools, he said.
Vucic added that he had proposed the reintroduction of the death penalty but said the government was against such a step.
In Serbia, the president is largely a ceremonial figure but Vucic wields considerable power as he also heads the ruling party.
Deadly drive-by attack
Thursday’s shooting took place near Mladenovac, a town 50km (30 miles) south of the capital Belgrade.
The state-run RTS television said the suspected gunman first opened fire at a schoolyard in the village of Dubona and killed a police officer and his sister, along with others in the area.
He then moved on to the nearby villages of Mali Orasje and Sepsin, according to RTS.
“We heard gunshots in the evening, but I thought it was fireworks, children fooling around. It did not even occur to me that something like this could happen,” Zvonko Mladenovic, a Dubona resident, told the AFP news agency.
The suspect was on the run for hours before police arrested him early Friday, RTS reported.
The police said the man had been arrested near the central city of Kragujevac and about 90km (56 miles) from the scene of the attacks.
According to RTS, the suspect was arrested at the home of a relative and was in possession of four hand grenades and a large number of illegal weapons and ammunition.
Serbian officials including Vucic and Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic have cast the shooting as “a terrorist act”.
Al Jazeera’s Bojana Stojanovic, reporting near Mladenovac, said the heavy police presence eased after the suspect was arrested.
“People felt relief after news of the arrest,” she said.
“We are all in a state of shock, people have still not captured their emotions after the school tragedy.
“Everyone is a bit more silent than they were. The loudest thing we can hear is shock. These things never happened in Serbia before, not in this measure.”
State of mourning
In the shooting rampage at the Vladislav Ribnikar primary school in central Belgrade, the 13-year-old suspect used his father’s guns.
One of the victims, a child, was a French citizen, France’s foreign ministry said.
Earlier on Thursday, dozens of students, many wearing black, paid their respects.
People cried and hugged outside the school, still cordoned off by police, as they stood in front of heaps of flowers, small teddy bears and footballs.
The Balkans is among the top regions in Europe in the number of guns per capita and Serbia is awash with weapons left over from the wars of the 1990s.
Still, the country has strict gun laws and mass shootings are rare – the last was in 2013 when a war veteran killed 13 people in a central Serbian village.
Authorities on Thursday moved to further tighten gun control and police urged citizens to lock up their weapons and keep them away from children.
Police have said the teenage attacker planned Wednesday’s attack for a month, drawing sketches of classrooms at the school and compiling lists of the children he planned to kill.
One girl who was shot in the head remains in a life-threatening condition, while a boy is in serious condition with spinal injuries, doctors said on Thursday.
The school shooting suspect has not given any motive for his actions.
Experts have repeatedly warned of the dangers posed by the number of weapons in a highly-divided country like Serbia, where convicted war criminals are glorified and violence against minority groups often goes unpunished.
They add there is also a risk from decades of instability stemming from the conflicts of the 1990s as well as ongoing economic hardship.
“We have had too much violence for too long,” psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin told N1 television. “Children copy models. We need to eliminate negative models … and create a different system of values.”