Saturday, September 23, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, September 23, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New mass shooting shocks Serbia, president vows gun crackdown

Still in deep mourning after a mass shooting at a Belgrade school, Serbia endured its latest rampage in a rural part of the Balkan country.

(CN) — A second mass shooting within 48 hours left Serbia reeling on Friday after a 21-year-old Serbian man went on a rampage in a rural part of the country, killing eight people and wounding 14 others.

This renewed carnage began around midnight Thursday while the country was still processing the attack that occurred Wednesday morning at an upscale Belgrade school where a 13-year-old boy killed eight students and a security guard.

With his country plunged further into a state of shock, President Aleksandar Vucic vowed Friday to pass sweeping gun restrictions and other legislation to prevent future atrocities.

Mass shootings are very rare in Serbia and the rest of Europe where gun laws are strict. Serbia, though, has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, and the country remains haunted by the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

On Friday morning, Serbian police said they arrested the suspected shooter in the latest rampage, a man whom Serbian media has identified by only his first name and last initial. A massive manhunt was carried out to find Uros B., who was found hiding at his grandfather's house near the town of Kragujevac, according to RTS, a Serbian broadcaster. Police said they found numerous weapons at a cottage used by the suspect.

The attacker allegedly randomly shot at people while driving a car near villages about 40 miles south of Belgrade and later forced a taxi driver to take him to a place about 4 miles away from his grandfather's house. Local media reported he started firing at people with an automatic weapon after having an argument with a police officer in Dubona, a town about 30 miles south of Belgrade. Vucic said the shooter kept repeating the word “disparagement” when police asked him why he had committed the shootings.

Among the victims was an off-duty police officer; all those killed were under the age of 24 and the youngest victim was 15, Serbian media reported.

Vucic pledged a “practical disarmament” and new security measures, including the hiring of 1,200 new police officers to protect schools, a moratorium on new gun permits, tougher penalties for illegal weapons possession and psychological checks of gun owners. He also said security forces would crack down on criminal online activity and investigate 45,000 suspicious social media profiles as though they were “murderers.” He said online profiles that showed support for the shootings would be probed.

“This is an attack on our entire country and every citizen feels it,” Vucic said. “We will have the strength to defeat this evil.”

Vucic said the perpetrator will “not see the light of day.” He added that he had proposed reintroducing the death penalty but that idea was rejected by Prime Minister Ana Brnabic because Serbia would then become the only country in Europe other than Belarus to allow capital punishment. Belarus is an authoritarian, Soviet-style state run by strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.

Vucic has been criticized for using authoritarian tactics to consolidate power in Serbia, moves that have raised concerns as he seeks to bring his country into the European Union. Serbia's entry into the bloc has been held up over rule-of-law issues and the territorial dispute with Kosovo, which Serbia does not recognize as an independent state. Tensions with Kosovo remain very high.

The Balkan region is rife with illegal weapons after the wars and unrest of the 1990s. In 2019, it was estimated that there are 39.1 firearms per 100 people in Serbia — the third highest rate in the world behind the United States and Montenegro. Vucic said Serbia has reduced the number of weapons in the country from 950,000 to 760,000, but he vowed to remove many more guns. The government says it will open an amnesty period in which the owners of illegal guns can hand in weapons without penalty.

At a news conference, Vucic said the shooter was wearing a T-shirt with neo-Nazi symbols. Serbian media said the shooter expressed admiration for a celebrity Serbian mixed martial arts fighter and criminal called Aleksandar “Kristijan” Golubovic.

The suspect's grandfather and uncle were also detained.

On Friday, the father of the 13-year-old arrested Wednesday in the mass school shooting appeared in court. That man, a radiologist, faces criminal charges for allowing his son to access his weapons and giving him gun training.

The seventh grader was accused of planning the attack on his class using his father's handguns. He was arrested in the school playground with a backpack containing ammunition, four Molotov cocktails and a handgun, according to news reports.

Seven girls and one boy were killed, police said. Six students — four boys and two girls — and his history teacher were wounded.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @
Categories / Criminal, International

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.