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Serbia: Police arrest suspect in second mass shooting

May 5, 2023

The man is suspected of killing eight people in the second mass shooting in Serbia in just two days. Authorities hunted for the attacker as the country mourns.

Police officers at a road block in Dubona
A suspect in Serbia's second mass shooting in two days has been arrestedImage: Armin Durgut/AP Photo/picture alliance

Police on Friday arrested a suspected gunman who killed eight people in a town in central Serbia a day earlier, police and state media reported.

A police statement said that the man was arrested early in the morning near the town of Kragujevac, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Belgrade. The suspect was identified with the initials U.B.

Police had been searching for a 21-year-old suspect who allegedly fled after opening fire with an assault rifle and handgun from a moving car, seemingly at random, while passing through several villages.  

The mass shooting was the second to take place in Serbia in less than 48 hours after a 13-year-old student shot dead eight peers and a security guard in a Belgrade elementary school on Wednesday.

What we know about Thursday's attack

Another 14 people were wounded as the attacker went on the shooting spree in the town of Mladenovac, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the capital, Belgrade.

Local media reported that the suspect had been involved in an altercation at a school late on Thursday.

He allegedly left before returning with his two guns. 

The victims appeared to be, at least in part, at random and included an off-duty police officer and his sister, according to state broadcaster RTS.

A large contingent of around 600 police officers as well as the Special Antiterrorist Unit (SAJ) was deployed following the mass shooting, setting up heavily armed roadblocks in Mladenovac and launching a manhunt.

Helicopters and drones were also seen flying above the scene and nearby areas.

Serbian Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic called the shootings "a terrorist act," according to state media.

President Vucic announces clampdown on guns

President Aleksandar Vucic had already announced a host of gun control measures following Wednesday's school shooting. Serbia's Interior Ministry had warned gun owners to keep their weapons empty and locked in gun cabinets or safes.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic addresses media after shooting in Ribnikar school in Belgrade
President Vucic has announced mass restrictions on gun ownershipImage: Darko Vojinovic/AP/picture alliance

However, on Friday, he went further, saying "We will do an almost complete disarming of Serbia" during a live broadcast.

The populist president also said that the shooter in Thursday's attack "will never again see the light of the day."

He also announced a raft of "anti-terror" measures which included the deployment of some 1,200 police officers to guard the country's schools.

Serbia in mourning

The first bout of bloodshed had already sent shockwaves through the Balkan nation where such mass shootings are not common.

Authorities had announced a three-day mourning period to begin on Friday after Wednesday's school shooting.

Basketball star Luka Doncic expressed heartbreak over Wednesday's school shooting on Thursday, offering his condolences to the families and the entire community. 

On Twitter, the National Basketball Association (NBA) star said he was "exploring both immediate and long-term ways to support the students, faculty, and families affected by the shooting." 

"Belgrade, I support and stand with you all during this difficult time," he said.

A spokesperson for the Luka Doncic Foundation told ESPN that the basketball star had pledged to cover the funeral costs for the victims of the Wednesday shooting.

Though a Slovenian national, Doncic's father is a Slovenian of Serbian descent from Kosovo.

Prior to the two recent attacks, the last mass shooting was in 2013 when a war veteran killed 13 people in a central Serbian village. 

Students stand with flowers and mourn.
Students from across Serbia streamed into Belgrade wearing black and carrying flowers to pay homage to their peers who were killed. Image: Antonio Bronic/REUTERS

Gun culture is widespread in Serbia — the region is among the top countries with the number of guns per capita in Europe. 

Guns are mostly used to fire during celebrations but the idolizing of warriors is still part of the national identity.

The tragedy sparked a debate about the state of the Balkan country, whose history is seeped in decades of crises and conflicts—  the aftermath of which has created a permanent sense of insecurity and instability.

Experts have repeatedly been warning of the danger that this gun culture poses in a highly divided country like Serbia where convicted war criminals are glorified and violence against minorities often goes unpunished.

tj,ab,ns/rc,wd (AP, AFP, Reuters)