Speech by Prime Minister Rutte at the commemoration of the attacks in Utrecht and Christchurch, House of Representatives
Today, the flags in the Netherlands fly at half-mast.
Yesterday's nightmare was no bad dream, but a brutal reality we woke up to this morning. Innocent people in Utrecht who were taking the tram to work, school or elsewhere were suddenly plunged into the most awful situation imaginable. Without warning, they found themselves being shot at, brutally targeted in a horrific attack.
One young man was trying to help an injured young woman, but then found the gunman aiming at him. He could hardly believe what he was seeing: 'I thought, "Is this real? Is this really happening to me?"' A fraction of a second later he was running for his life. It was real. It is real. And yet somehow it all seems surreal: three people dead and three others seriously injured on a Monday morning on a tram bound for Utrecht central station.
Utrecht is located in the heart of the Netherlands, and you could well say that yesterday our country was struck at its heart. First and foremost our thoughts are with the next of kin, the families whose loved ones were taken from them in the space of an instant. And we also think of those who were injured, some of whom are even now fighting for their lives. The whole country is with you in spirit.
A little more than a day after this dreadful attack, many in the Netherlands, myself included, find themselves wrestling with feelings of horror and disbelief. Many questions remain about the perpetrator's motives and what was behind this attack. The police and the Public Prosecution Service have a lot of work ahead of them. But we can already say that the impact of the attack was significant: yesterday, public life in Utrecht came to a standstill. Bus and tram services were suspended; schools were closed and people stayed inside.
Our sense of trust suffered a major blow. So did our sense of security. And yet, most of us have already resumed our daily lives, and indeed, that is the best response we can offer. This morning, people again took the tram to work and to school, as they would on any other day. For me, that simple daily routine is the strongest proof that our society is stronger than hatred and violence.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express my utmost respect and appreciation for all emergency and medical personnel who assisted the victims or are now caring for them. And for all the police officers and the staff at our security services who were able to apprehend the main suspect yesterday. I also have deep admiration for the people of Utrecht, who remained calm in the face of a major threat. You are an example to us all.
Due to yesterday's events in Utrecht we feel even more connected to the people of Christchurch, New Zealand. Few places are further away, geographically speaking, but today, New Zealand is very close to our hearts. In an act of extreme violence a man, blinded by intolerance and xenophobia, murdered dozens of people who were peacefully attending Friday prayers. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents: ordinary people practising their faith in familiar surroundings were fired upon and killed in cold blood.
Our hearts go out to the victims of this terrible tragedy and their loved ones. What connects Utrecht and Christchurch, the Netherlands and New Zealand, is the sorrow caused by senseless violence. Despite the great distance between our countries, we are united in our feelings of horror. But also in the trust that our societies are resilient and in the conviction that we will not yield to hatred and violence. Never.