A gruesome attack Thursday on a parade honoring the Netherlands’ royal family has left seven dead, including the perpetrator, and has deeply shaken the nation’s bedrock values of trust and security.
The middle-aged man who drove a small car into a packed crowd of bystanders before crashing into a stone monument, narrowly missed an open-topped bus carrying Queen Beatrix and members of her family in Apeldoorn, 60 miles southeast of Amsterdam.
Prosecutors dropped charges against the driver, identified in the local media as Karst Tates, after he was confirmed dead from injuries sustained during the crash. Officials confirmed the attack was premeditated and likely aimed at the royal family.
"From the first contact we had with the accused, there are indications that this was a deliberately-planned act," prosecutor Ludo Goossens told reporters.
Very little is known about Mr. Tates, though police say he had no previous criminal record. Dutch media reported Friday that Tates had recently lost his job as a security guard. He was due to leave his apartment Friday because he could no longer afford the rent. No explosives were found in either his car or home.
The incident took place during festivities for Queen's Day, a popular national holiday celebrated on April 30.
Although security had been on high alert, with 700 police officers deployed to the normally quiet eastern town, the attack is rekindling debate on the security of public officials, seven years after a self-confessed radical animal rights activist assassinated in broad daylight the charismatic, anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn. Mr. Fortuyn's assassination was followed by the 2004 murder of film director Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist.
"The Dutch take pride in openness," says Uri Rosenthal, who directs The Hague-based Institute for Safety, Security, and Crisis Management. "If you look closely at the assassination of Fortuyn and that of Van Gogh, then you have to say that the times of cabinet ministers openly traveling by bike are more or less over."
Mr. Rosenthal, who is also a senator for the liberal opposition VVD party and professor of public administration at Leiden University, says the royal family's safety couldn't be compromised for the sake of openness.
"I think the Dutch are rather naive," Rosenthal says. "You have to question whether the open attitude on Queen's Day make sense and if not, you have to come up with a new concept, one that befits the 21st century."
The Netherlands has been a monarchy under the house of Orange-Nassau since 1815. Queen's Day festivities, marked by ubiquitous flea markets and music concerts on streets decorated with orange bunting, are held each year on April 30 in honour of the late Queen Juliana's birthday. The monarchy is popular in the Netherlands, says Ingmar Vriesema, deputy opinion editor at the NRC Handelsblad, a respected national daily.
"The character of Queen's Day has always been innocent," he says. "Queen's Day was about the open interaction between royalty and the people. That will most certainly come to an end because I don't think the queen will want to risk her life."
Thursday evening, Queen Beatrix gave a rare televised address to the nation, saying "What started as a beautiful day has ended in terrible drama, which has shocked us deeply."
Flags are at half-mast here following the tragedy, but people are mourning more than just those killed and injured. The headline on an article in the Volkskrant newspaper claims that "A national illusion died in Apeldoorn."
The article continues, "Foreigners who are surprised by ministers who cycle to their offices, a prime minister eating a herring alone at the fish stall next to Parliament – it is all gone."