Serbian police on Friday arrested a gunman suspected of killing eight people and wounding 14 others in a village near Belgrade, causing horror in a nation that had just started three days of mourning for victims of a school shooting on Wednesday.
The latest incident occurred late on Thursday in the village of Dubona, 42 kilometres south of Belgrade, authorities said.
In a statement, police said that the man, identified by initials U.B., was arrested near the central Serbian town of Kragujevac, about 100 kilometres south of Belgrade.
On Wednesday, a 13-year-old boy shot dead nine and injured seven at a school in Belgrade before turning himself in.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic proposed on Friday an array of tough measures to improve gun control and bolster security in schools in the Balkan country in the wake of the deadly incidents.
Vucic suggested a moratorium on gun permits regardless of weapons type, a “practical disarmament” of Serbia and more frequent medical and psychological checks of gun owners, adding that the government would hire 1,200 new police officers to improve security in the country’s schools.
He described the overnight mass shooting as a “terrorist attack” and “an attack against us all.”
In Serbia, the president is largely a ceremonial figure but Vucic wields considerable power as he also heads the ruling party.
Under the plans, the Interior Ministry will also invite people who own illegal weapons and explosive devices to surrender them within a month without legal consequences.
The country, and the rest of Western Balkans, are awash with military-grade weapons and ordnance that remained in private hands after the wars of the 1990s.
According to local media, the suspect in the latest mass shooting was involved in an altercation in a school yard late on Thursday and left, but returned with an assault rifle and a handgun. He opened fire and continued to shoot at people at random from a moving car.
State broadcaster RTS reported an off-duty policeman and his sister were among those killed.
Around 600 Serbian police, including elite Special Anti-terrorist Unit (SAJ) and Gendarmerie were involved in a manhunt, dubbed Operation Whirlwind, RTS reported.
Inside the village of Dubona, a Reuters witness saw heavily armed police establishing a checkpoint and searching incoming traffic. Armoured police SUVs and black vans circled the area.
“This is terrible for our state, this is a huge defeat. In two days, so many … killed,” said Ivan, a Dubona resident.
Police used a helicopter, drones and multiple police patrols to hunt down the suspect.
Serbian Health Minister Danica Grujicic said many of the wounded had suffered multiple injuries and had undergone surgery, but she added that all were in a stable condition.
The suspected shooter in Wednesday’s violence at Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School took two of his father’s handguns to kill eight pupils and a security guard in a hallway and history class.
Hundreds of school children with candles and flowers gathered for a vigil on Thursday evening in streets around the school, while churches planned memorial prayers.
Strict gun controls
Dozens of high school teachers rallied in front of the Education Ministry in downtown Belgrade on Thursday, demanding improvements to school security and the education system.
Serbia has an entrenched gun culture, especially in rural areas, but also strict gun control laws. Automatic weapons are illegal and over the years authorities have offered several amnesties to those who surrender them.
After the school shooting in Belgrade, the Serbian government introduced a two-year ban on the issuing of new gun permits, a revision of existing permits and checks on how gun owners store their arms.