Gunmen kills six, then himself, in Dutch shopping mall

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A gunman opened fire in a packed mall in the Netherlands Saturday, killing six people and wounding at least 10 others before shooting himself dead, an official said.

"The number of dead now stands at seven," including the shooter, Bas Eenhoorn, the acting mayor of Alphen aan den Rijn south of Amsterdam, said in a statement.

Earlier he had spoken of another 11 wounded, four of them seriously.

Eenhoorn told journalists the shooting took place around midday (1000 GMT) at the Ridderhof shopping mall, packed with families with children.

"A man armed with an automatic firearm opened fire on the crowd ... before taking his own life," the acting mayor said.

"The killer is a resident of Alphen aan den Rijn known to the police," said Kitty Nooy of the prosecutor's office in The Hague, which covers the town.

"It is practically certain that he acted alone," she added.

Eenhoorn nevertheless said that three other shopping centres in the town had been evacuated "as a precautionary measure" and would stay closed until further notice.

"We don't want to take any risks," he added, saying they had acted on information obtained during the investigation.

Survivors interviewed by Dutch media said the shooter was a man of around twenty years old.

"He was big and dressed in camouflage pants," an elderly woman told Dutch public television NOS.

"He moved about without haste, killing in cold blood."

Police evacuated the shopping centre, where the shooting sparked mass panic amid rumours that the killer was not acting alone.

"It is hard to believe that our town could experience such slaughter, and on such a beautiful day," said Eenhoorn. He was "profoundly shocked", he added, offering his condolences to the victims' relatives.

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands had also expressed her distress at news of the shooting and passed on her condolences, he said.

Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten called the events "a terrible drama".

The municipality of Alphen aan den Rijn set up a special telephone number for people trying to get hold of their loved ones.

Traumatised shoppers and their relatives were being looked after at the city's police station.

The NOS tv footage showed the mall -- now deserted and guarded by a large police contingent -- and interviews with witnesses.

It also broadcast photographs taken of the scene, including one of a man killed in his car, his body hanging from the open door among shards of glass.

Most witnesses said the shooting lasted between 10 and 20 minutes.

"Initially, we thought it was fireworks," 37-year-old Mehdi Attha told AFP.

"Then the noises got closer and two people fell to the ground very close to me.

"People went over to them to help, thinking that they had fainted. When they understood that someone was firing shots, everyone started running," she added.

"I didn't see the shooter, I was just thinking about running."

Hajam Leouesset, a young woman who witnessed the slaughter, said: "We saw people running in all directions and we heard them scream.

"Then I saw a man firing shots with a type of machine gun and there was blood everywhere," she said.

According to Leouesset, the killer "shot himself with another gun, near the cash registers at the supermarket where I was".

Dutch police and prosecutors were interviewing witnesses in a bid to reconstruct the events.

"One hears of these types of things happening abroad," Glenn Schoen, a Dutch specialist on security issues, told the NOS.

"One does not expect that such a blood bath can happen in a country like the Netherlands."

On April 30, two years ago, a man rammed his car into crowds celebrating the annual Queen's Day in the Netherlands. He killed seven people and himself, injuring nine others in the attack on the Dutch royal family in the central city of Apeldoorn.

© 2011 AFP

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