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Dutch crime reporter ‘fighting for life’

AMSTERDAM: People gather by the site of an attack during which a Dutch journalist specialized in crime, Peter R de Vries (seen inset) was seriously injured in a shooting on Tuesday. – AFP

AMSTERDAM: Prominent Dutch crime reporter Peter R de Vries was fighting for his life in a Dutch hospital yesterday after being shot multiple times, including in the head, in what the EU chief described as “an attack on our values”. Amsterdam police chief Frank Paauw said three people had been arrested, among them the suspected shooter, but gave no details on the possible reasons for the attack.

De Vries, who first won fame for his inside reporting on the kidnapping of millionaire Freddy Heineken in 1983, was shot up to five times in front of shocked bystanders as he left a television studio in a busy Amsterdam street on Tuesday. The attack sparked widespread condemnations, with Europe’s top official Charles Michel calling it a “crime against journalism and an attack on our values of democracy and rule of law.”

De Vries – a celebrity journalist in the Netherlands known for speaking on behalf of crime victims – was “fighting for his life”, Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema told a news conference late on Tuesday. Eyewitnesses told local media that the 64-year-old journalist and TV presenter was shot up to five times, including once in the head.

‘Shocking and inconceivable’
Dutch media reported yesterday that De Vries, known for his hard-hitting reporting, has been threatened several times in the past. Since last year, he has been acting as an advisor and confidante of the main prosecution witness in the case against Ridouan Taghi, described as the Netherlands’ most wanted criminal, whose organization was described as a “well-oiled killing machine by prosecutors”.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference in The Hague the attack was “shocking and inconceivable”. “It’s an attack on a courageous journalist and by extension an attack on the freedom of the press, which is so essential for our democracy and rule of law,” he said.

De Vries was shot at around 7:30 pm local time (1730 GMT) – still daylight at this time of year in Amsterdam – as he left a television studio after appearing on a talk show. Het Parool daily newspaper quoted a resident as saying she heard five shots and went out to see what had happened. She said she saw de Vries lying on the ground with a lot of blood on his face. She told the paper that he couldn’t speak but was still alive, and that she held his hand as they waited for emergency services.

‘National figure’
At the scene of the shooting, shocked residents were laying flowers and lighting candles. “Pieter R de Vries is an extraordinarily courageous crime journalist who tries to correct the errors of the judiciary and has succeeded many times,” Amsterdam resident Daniel van Duijn, 29, told AFP. “I think the whole of the Netherlands grew up with him, he’s a kind of national figure, someone who is really contrarian, who dares to go against the rest, so someone who has my heart actually,” he said.

Rutte and Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus met at the Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) on Tuesday evening to discuss the shooting. “This is a black day, not only for the people close to Peter R de Vries, but also for the freedom of the press,” Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus told journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called for authorities to “determine if he was targeted for his work, and ensure that the attacker and the masterminds of the attack face justice”. Messages of solidarity flooded Dutch social media, including from the royal family, who posted on their official Facebook page that they were deeply shocked by the news, and that de Vries and his loved ones were in their thoughts.

No stranger to threats
In the past de Vries had been given police protection after receiving threats related to his involvement in high-profile criminal cases as a reporter and in court. One such case was the 1983 abduction of beer magnate Freddy Heineken. His book on the case was later made into a film starring Anthony Hopkins. In 2016, De Vries filed a death threat complaint against one of the men involved in the kidnapping, notorious gangster Willem Holleeder.

He won an international Emmy for cracking the mystery of what happened to a US teen who disappeared from the Caribbean island of Aruba in 2005. Security around the case against Taghi is extra-tight as in 2019, Nabil B’s lawyer Derk Wiersum was gunned down in the street outside his house. – AFP


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