Burgemeester Presentation report ‘A city in silence’ following the tram attack on 18 March

Speech by Jan van Zanen, Mayor of Utrecht

Stadhuisplein, Stadhuis, 10 december 2019

Good afternoon everyone. Welcome.

I would just like to say a few words, jointly on behalf of Chief Public Prosecutor, Rutger Jeuken of the Public Prosecution Service; Rob van Bree, Head of Operations at the Central Netherlands Police Unit; and Nicolette Rigter, Director of Public Health.

On 18 March 2019, Utrecht literally came to a standstill. An attack took place in a tram at 24 Oktoberplein. Four people lost their lives. Others were injured. Those harrowing images that remain indelibly imprinted in the minds of numerous eyewitnesses. On that March day – and throughout the days and weeks that followed – we witnessed how people were united by their grief. They offered the victims and their relatives assistance, while the eyewitnesses also comforted each other. On the Friday following the incident, many thousands of people took part in a silent march. FC Utrecht supporters marched shoulder to shoulder with committee members of various mosques. They expressed sympathy for the victims and their next of kin, as did the masses of flowers laid in tribute at 24 Oktoberplein. If it can be summed up in a single word: impressive!

This crisis demanded the very utmost of our police officers and ambulance staff, and many others who were involved in the relief efforts, including casual bystanders, roadside assistance staff and construction workers. They responded immediately. They did what they had to do, despite facing very difficult circumstances. It was the type of crisis for which all the organisations involved had prepared themselves by holding drills. It was the sort of crisis that we had never experienced before in the Netherlands. The highest threat level, namely level 5, was declared for the first time. It was the first occasion that a shooting incident in the Netherlands had prompted a warning of possible terrorist motives.

As the responsible mayor and crisis organisation, you are fully aware that any unprecedented decision you make in a crisis situation will be subsequently reviewed. And rightly so, as there is often a great deal to be learned from such experiences. I have therefore dispatched a letter containing all the relevant information to Utrecht municipal council of and to my fellow regional mayors and Chairs of the Safety Regions.

At the behest of the Ministry of Justice and Security, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) assessed the escalation of the national crisis structure.

The National Police Board also commissioned a review of the National Police’s actions.

The Minister of Justice and Security has just presented the review of the national crisis structure and the findings and conclusions of the police to the Lower House of Parliament.

The findings of an investigation led by the NCTV into the criminal past and the radicalisation of the suspect are expected early next year.

Yesterday evening, the Minister and I informed next of kin and eyewitnesses about the findings being published today. Almost immediately after the tram attack, I pointed out that I considered it vital that we learn from the attack. The ‘Aftermath Steering Committee’ subsequently commissioned the Institute for Safety, Security and Crisis Management (COT) to carry out a ‘learning evaluation’ aimed at the multidisciplinary crisis response. The challenges and dilemmas faced by the crisis organisation were examined in the process. And the lessons to be learned were also identified.

Today, the city, the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the security region published the findings of the COT. First of all, I would like to thank the COT and its staff for the report entitled ‘A city in silence’. The report shows that the Utrecht crisis organisation ‘adopted an active response’ to the complex situation that arose on 18 March and made understandable decisions, given the information available at the time. It did so on the basis of the logical scenario of ‘an attack with a possible terrorist motive’. It is important that everyone involved in the crisis organisation or deployed by it on 18 March take note of these findings.

The report is emphatically a learning evaluation. After all, we might also learn valuable lessons from it for the future. The COT’s investigators interviewed those directly involved and analysed reports and other documents. Its senior consultant, Jelleke van Rantwijk, is present today. The COT has made a number of recommendations. Valuable recommendations. Not only to the crisis organization in Utrecht, but to everyone in the Netherlands involved in crisis management. The lessons are about improved means of sharing information. Not only within the crisis organisation, but also with everyone in the city. Another valuable lesson learned is that we need to describe more clearly what it means when we advise everyone in the city to remain indoors. This implies: clearly pointing out what measures we have taken, explaining why these measures are necessary, clarifying where these measures are in force, and defining how long they will remain in place.

The COT recommends that we more closely involve social organisations. The sharing of information during a crisis also remains a point for attention. In this regard, all of the crisis organisation’s partners have lessons to learn from the evaluation’s conclusions. Today is the time to reflect on the way in which we responded to this crisis. Heed the advice proffered, and actively seek to implement the conclusions of the COT.

Above all, however, today is another opportunity to commemorate all of the victims of the attack. Our thoughts go out to their next of kin. We commiserate with everyone who still feels the consequences of the attack on a daily basis. During the past few months, I visited victims, spoke to relatives and listened to the stories of eyewitnesses. The impact that the events of 18 March had on their lives is unimaginable.

And this reminds me of another vital duty: that we should not forget 18 March. And that we shall never forget the victims, their loved ones, and the eyewitnesses. A memorial site is therefore to be established at 24 Oktoberplein, which will comprise a large green space, benches... and a prominent spot for the tree where we congregated to weep, mourn and comfort one another. A sombre, tranquil and above all beautiful place. Work is due to commence there in January. And the memorial site will completed before 18 March.

That day, we shall congregate once more at 24 Oktoberplein, to reflect on the attack. Together with the next of kin and eyewitnesses. We shall embrace one another. For we, together, are Utrecht.


Uw mening