By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
HILVERSUM, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife)– A young man brandishing a fake gun entered the headquarters of Dutch national broadcaster NOS, Thursday, January 29, briefly abducting a doorman and interrupting a television news program, before being overpowered by Dutch police.
The man, who demanded airtime and was dressed in a sharp suite, has been identified as Tarik Zahzah, a chemistry student at Technical University in Delft, a well-informed security official told BosNewsLife. Zhahzah, 19, from Pijnacker near The Hague, recently lost his parents and does not appear to be a Jihad fighter, the source added.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue in details with media.
Troubles began just before 20.00 hours when the network’s flagship tv news program ‘NOS Journaal’ (Journal) was about to begin. Zahzah entered the NOS building at broadcasting complex Media Park in the central town of Hilversum, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Amsterdam. He forced a doorman to bring him to a studio.
The young man handed over a letter in which he demanded airtime. In the letter he also claimed to have placed eight nuclear explosives at several locations. He said he worked with five other “terrorists” and 98 hackers who would prepare “a cyber attack.”
Fearing bloodshed, the doorman and an engineer brought him to an empty studio, used for morning and afternoon broadcasts. Before fleeing, the engineer managed to fix a camera on the unfolding drama.
Footage aired later, showed a clearly formulating man, wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, and carrying a pistol with what looked like a silencer attached. Officials revealed later it was a fake gun.
The young man said he had “a message for the world”. Zahzah made clear he wasn’t alone saying “we are hired by intelligence agencies.”
The doorman, who remained in the studio, was not allowed to leave, footage showed. “I hope you will not involve me in your proces,” the doorman was heard saying.
Minutes later police shouting “put your gun down” and “go on your knees” overpowered the young man. “One wrong move and we will shoot,” a policeman shouted.
As the drama unfolded, editors and other staff were forced to leave the complex by police searching for possible more suspects and explosives.
Some two hours later, the complex was cleared, allowing NOS to resume broadcasting from the Media Park. All three public broadcasting channels were off air for roughly an hour, before NOS began broadcasting from an alternative studio in The Hague, the seat of Parliament and Government.
“Most of you have most likely seen the shocking pictures,” recalled Hilversum Mayor Peter Broertjes later at a news conference.
He said his town, home to several broadcasters, had been prepared for incidents following the recent massacre in Paris where gunmen killed 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine. “Police did a very good job, but clearly the security wasn’t working well,” Broertjes acknowledged.
Broertjes, a former journalist, said it is difficult to accept that the press has become a target of attacks. “We look into security arrangements around media here. It is important that journalists can do their work in freedom.”
Questions remained over the motives of the suspect at a time when the Netherlands is among several European countries on high alert for possible terror attacks. Dutch media suggested he had mental problems, but fellow students said he appeared “normal.”
“We have detained the young man, and we start an extensive investigation,” pledged Johan Bac, acting chief prosecutor. Police said it was also “investigating the weapon”, which initially appeared to be a real handgun.
NOS Chief Editor Marcel Gelauff later said the experience was “extremely shocking” and that the network had to think about improving protection. “It’s a very serious incident, especially for colleagues who were experiencing this.”
NOS anchorman Herman van der Zandt agrees. “If you see the pictures, it’s strange, because I am always sitting at the same place where there was now someone with a handgun.”
It also revived memories: The Media Park area in Hilversum, the base of NOS and other Dutch broadcasters, had been tightly guarded since 2002 when populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in a parking lot there by an animal rights activist.