At least eight people were killed and 14 were injured when a shooter in a moving automobile opened fire on bystanders in a town south of Belgrade, the second mass shooting in a week in Serbia, where such tragedies are uncommon.
The drive-by attack late on Thursday came after eight children and a security guard were killed in a mass shooting at a school on Wednesday.
On Friday, Serbia began an official three-day mourning period to pay tribute to the deaths. The shooting occurred at Mladenovac, a town 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Belgrade.
According to the state-run RTS television, the accused gunman, 21, opened fire at a schoolyard in the town of Dubona, killing a police officer, his sister, and others in the area. The gunman 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 a relative’s home and had four hand grenades and many illegal weapons and ammunition.
Serbian Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic called the shooting “a terrorist act.” Ambulances, special police, and helicopter units were sent to the area.
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
Serbia is reeling from Wednesday’s shooting rampage at the Vladislav Ribnikar primary school in central Belgrade, in which a 13-year-old boy 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 have Europe’s highest per capita gun ownership rate, and Serbia is awash in weaponry left over from the 1990s battles.
Nonetheless, the country has stringent gun rules, and mass shootings are uncommon the most recently occurred in 2013, when a war veteran massacred 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 suspect in the school shooting has not stated a reason for his conduct.
Experts have often warned of the dangers posed by the number of firearms in a country as divided as Serbia, where convicted war criminals are idolized and aggression against minority groups frequently goes unpunished.
They say there is also a risk from decades of instability caused by the 1990s hostilities and persistent economic distress.
“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.”
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