Six killed in Dutch shopping centre shooting spree

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A gunman shot dead five people in a jam packed mall in the western Netherlands on Saturday and wounded at least 11 others before shooting himself, a local official said.

"There are at present six dead, including the person responsible," Bas Eenhoorn, the acting mayor of Alphen aan den Rijn south of Amsterdam, told a press conference.

At least 11 other people were wounded, four of them seriously, he said.

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

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

The identity of the shooter, "who acted alone", has not been made public, but victims interviewed by Dutch media said it 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, who expressed deep shock and offered condolences to the victims' relatives.

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 showed footage of the mall -- now deserted and guarded by a large police contingent -- and interviewed 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," according to Hajam Leouesset, a young woman who witnessed the slaughter.

"But then 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 are 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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