MLADENOVAC: Serbian police said Friday they had arrested a man suspected of killing eight people and injuring at least 14 others in the country’s second mass shooting this week, following a manhunt through the night. The back-to-back shootings have left Serbians horrified, spurring vows from President Aleksandar Vucic to launch a massive crackdown to remove hundreds of thousands of guns from the Balkan country. The latest shooting erupted around midnight near Mladenovac—about 60 kilometres (37 miles) south of the capital Belgrade—when a 21-year-old gunman armed with an automatic weapon opened fire from a moving vehicle, according to state-run RTS television.

The shooting spree spread across three separate villages in the area. It prompted a manhunt through the night as police combed the woods near Belgrade, with a helicopter circling overhead with a spotlight appearing to search for the fugitive gunman. “Following a wide search, police arrested UB,” police said in a statement, using only the suspect’s initials. “He is suspected to have killed eight and injured 14 people overnight. The injured are hospitalised.”

The police said the man had been arrested near the central city of Kragujevac—roughly 90 kilometres from the scene of the attacks. According to RTS, the suspect was arrested at the home of a relative and was in possession of four hand grenades and a large amount of illegal weapons and ammunition. The incident happened less than 48 hours after the worst school shooting in Serbia’s recent history, when a 13-year-old killed nine people, including eight fellow students, at a school in downtown Belgrade on Wednesday. The shootings have left the country in a state of deep shock, with thousands flocking to makeshift memorial sites while others have queued to donate blood.

The latest incident is believed to have begun at around midnight.  The state broadcaster said the suspected shooter first opened fire at a schoolyard in the village of Dubona, killing a police officer and his sister along with others in the area. The gunman then moved onto 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,” said Zvonko Mladenovic, a Dubona resident.—AFP

Mladenovic said his cousin’s granddaughter had been shot and wounded. “She was visiting her grandfather. This was where the kids were hanging out and... she was shot in the head,” Mladenovic added. “First those kids in Belgrade, and now this. This is a disaster.” Dubona resident Slobodan Nikolic said a group of young people had been gathered on a park bench, where they were singing and hanging out before the shooting. At dawn on Friday, a heavy police presence could be seen in the area of the latest shooting. Roughly 600 police personnel had been deployed to the area, according to RTS, with members of an elite anti-terrorist unit patrolling the highway.

Worried relatives gathered outside the emergency medical centre in Belgrade, where at least eight of the injured were hospitalised, N1 television reported. Serbia began a three-day mourning period on Friday during what is normally a festive time at the beginning of spring, with people flocking outdoors and filling cafes to meet friends and families.


‘Difficult days’

Mass school shootings are extremely rare in Serbia, with Vucic calling Wednesday’s tragedy “one of the most difficult days” in recent history. In a national address on Friday, Vucic vowed to oversee a massive review of registered weapons in the country in a crackdown that would remove hundreds of thousands of guns from the public and seize illegal arms. “We will do an almost complete disarming of Serbia,” Vucic said during a live broadcast. The president said there were more than 760,000 registered firearms in the country of roughly 6.8 million people. The interior ministry has appealed to all firearm owners to keep their guns locked in safes or risk having them seized. Gun ownership is high in Serbia, where shooting ranges are popular but special permits are required to possess firearms. – AFP