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The Netherlands

Two people seriously injured in Amsterdam train station stabbing are US citizens, ambassador says

The assailant was identified as a 19-year-old Afghan man with a German residency permit.

LAST UPDATE | Sep 1st 2018, 12:45 PM

TWO PEOPLE WHO were seriously injured in a knife attack at Amsterdam’s Central Station are US citizens, the US ambassador has said, as Dutch police probed a possible terror link.

“We are aware that both victims were US citizens and have been in touch with them and their families,” Pete Hoekstra said in a statement.

Panic broke out at the Dutch capital’s main station shortly after midday yesterday when the knife-wielding man stabbed two bystanders before he was shot and wounded by police.

Police later identified the suspect as a 19-year-old Afghan man with a German residency permit.

He is being questioned in hospital under police guard and Dutch authorities said they were in close contact with their German counterparts for more details about his background. 

A preliminary investigation revealed that the assailant did not know his victims and that he did not specifically target them, the police spokesman said – suggesting a random attack.

An Amsterdam police spokesman, Frans Zuiderhoek, told AFP late yesterday “we are seriously taking into account that there was a terrorist motive”.

Another police spokesman, Rob van der Veen, said today that “the police investigation is in full swing and we are looking at all angles”.

THE NETHERLANDS-AMSTERDAM-STABBING INCIDENT Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

Further details of the two Americans injured were not immediately known, although one was reported to be a young man.

Hoekstra said the US is ready to “assist as appropriate, with our main priority as always being the safety and well-being of US citizens in the country”.

The attack comes a day after an announcement by Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders that he was cancelling moves to stage a cartoon competition to caricature the Prophet Mohammad, a plan that had angered many Muslims.

Scenes of panic

Witnesses described scenes of panic yesterday as gunshots rang out and thousands of commuters and tourists were evacuated from the rail terminus shortly after midday.

“The two people are very badly injured, and they were brought to the hospital,” said Van der Veen. Police today said they are in a satisfactory condition.

One witness said he saw a young man “stumble” into his flower shop at the station with a bleeding wound to his hand.

“Shortly afterwards I heard some shots and I know something has gone badly wrong,” Richard Snelders told the ANP news agency. A while later he saw another man lying on the ground nearby, he said. 

“The first thing that comes up in your mind is that it’s a terror attack. After all, you are at Amsterdam Central Station. There was a lot of panic,” Snelders said.

THE NETHERLANDS-AMSTERDAM-STABBING INCIDENT Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

Police declined to comment when asked whether there was a possible link between Friday’s attack and the cartoon competition.

Wilders’ controversial announcement has seen angry protests, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement, calling on Muslims to attack Dutch troops and calling Wilders’ plan “a hostile act by this country (the Netherlands) against all Muslims”.

Earlier this week, police arrested another man – believed to be Pakistani– at The Hague’s Central Station after he posted a film on Facebook saying he was planning to assassinate the blond-haired Wilders, well known for his virulent anti-Islamic views.

Wilders on Thursday said he was cancelling plans to stage the competition to “avoid the risk of making people victims of Islamist violence”.

THE NETHERLANDS-AMSTERDAM-STABBING INCIDENT Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

‘Stay down’

Yesterday, police quickly arrived at the scene with video images showing police ordering the suspect in English to “stay down” after he had been shot.

Images posted on social media showed security guards ushering passengers towards exits and paramedics arriving at the scene with stretchers.

Two platforms at the station – located in the Dutch capital’s historic canal-ringed city centre – had been evacuated and closed off to passengers, police said, and were reopened for rail traffic two hours later. 

A special police department opened a routine probe into why police shot the man.

The Netherlands has so far been spared from the slew of terror attacks which have rocked its closest European neighbours in the past few years.

But amid a number of scares and reports that people linked to some of those attacks may have crossed briefly into the country, top Dutch security and intelligence officials have stressed that the threat level is substantial.

Around 250,000 people travel through Central Station every day, according to statistics provided by the travel guide.

- © AFP 2018.

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