Serbian leader says gunman ‘targeted people at random’ in latest mass shooting

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Serbia’s president has said the gunman in the latest mass shooting to hit the country targeted people at random.

Aleksandar Vucic said the assailant shot at people “wherever they were”, and branded the assault an attack on the whole country.

The gunman killed eight people and wounded 14 others in two Serbian villages south of Belgrade on Thursday, authorities and media reported. Police arrested a suspect on Friday following an all-night manhunt.

Serbia Shooting
Blood is seen on the ground at the site of a shooting in the village of Dubona (Armin Durgut/AP/PA)

Mr Vucic vowed to the nation in an address that the suspect in the shooting “will never again see the light of the day”.

The populist leader called the shooting a terrorist attack, as is typical in Serbia.

He announced a series of “anti-terrorist” measures, including the hiring of 1,200 policemen and putting a police officer on guard each day at schools.

Reports said that the suspect in the latest shooting, identified by initials UB, was arrested in Vinjiste, a village 90 miles south of Belgrade.

Officers searching a relative’s home found a large stash of illegal weapons and ammunition, state broadcaster RTS reported.

Authorities released a photo showing a young man in a police car in a blue T-shirt with the slogan “Generation 88” on it. The double eights are often used as shorthand for “Heil Hitler” since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Mr Vucic said the suspect repeated the word “disparagement” but it was not clear what that meant.

Police car
A police vehicle blocks the entrance to the village of Dubona (Marko Drobnjakovic/AP/PA)

The attacker shot randomly at people in two villages near Mladenovac, some 30 miles south of the capital, broadcaster RTS said.

Serbian interior minister Bratislav Gasic called Thursday’s drive-by shootings “a terrorist act”.

Belgrade school
Police officers guard the Vladimir Ribnikar school in Belgrade, scene of the earlier mass shooting (Darko Vojinovic/AP/PA)

Though Serbia is awash with weapons left over from the wars of the 1990s, Wednesday’s school shooting was the first in the country’s modern history.

The last mass shooting before this week was in 2013, when a war veteran killed 13 people in a central Serbian village.

Serbia spent much of Thursday reeling from its first mass shooting in 10 years. Students, many wearing black and carrying flowers, filled the streets around the school in central Belgrade as they paid silent tribute to the dead.

Serbian teachers’ unions announced protests and strikes to warn about a crisis in the school system and to demand changes.

Serbia School Shooting
The gunman shooter killed at least eight people and wounded 13 others in a drive-by attack near a town close to Belgrade (Armin Durgut/AP/PA)

The government ordered a two-year moratorium on short-barrel guns, tougher control of people with guns and shooting grounds, and tougher sentences for people who enable minors to get hold of guns.

A registered gun owner in Serbia must be over 18, healthy, and have no criminal record. Weapons must be kept locked and separately from ammunition.

The shooting on Wednesday morning in Vladislav Ribnikar primary school also left seven people in hospital – six children and a teacher. One girl who was shot in the head remains in life-threatening condition, and a boy is in serious condition with spinal injuries, doctors said on Thursday morning.

Serbia School Shooting
A 21-year-old suspect has been arrested over the latest shootings (Armin Durgut/AP/PA)

Gun culture is widespread in Serbia and elsewhere in the Balkans: The region has among the highest numbers of guns per capita in Europe. Guns are often fired into the air at celebrations and the cult of the warrior is part of national identities.

Experts have repeatedly warned of the danger posed by the number of weapons in the highly divided country, where convicted war criminals are glorified and violence against minority groups often goes unpunished.

They also note that decades of instability stemming from the conflicts of the 1990s, as well as ongoing economic hardship, could trigger such outbursts.

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