Czech police seek motive in Prague mass shooting that killed 13

Published December 22, 2023
Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan (L) and Police Chief Martin Vondrasek give a press conference in the Ministry of the Interior in Prague, Czech Republic, on December 22 to inform about a deadly mass shooting at a university the day before. — AFP
Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan (L) and Police Chief Martin Vondrasek give a press conference in the Ministry of the Interior in Prague, Czech Republic, on December 22 to inform about a deadly mass shooting at a university the day before. — AFP

Czech authorities sought a motive on Friday in a student’s gun attack that killed 13 people at a Prague university, where tearful mourners have left a sea of candles to grieve for the victims.

The gunfire on Thursday at the Charles University’s Faculty of Arts sparked frantic scenes of students running from the attack that was the Czech Republic’s worst shooting in decades.

A makeshift memorial of hundreds of candles flickered outside the university on Friday as police pursued the investigation at the campus in Prague’s historic centre.

The gunman, a 24-year-old student, killed himself after the attack, shooting dead 13 people and wounding 25 others.

“We know all 14 dead and their identity. It’s 13 victims of the mad gunman and the gunman himself,” Interior Minister Vit Rakusan told public broadcaster Czech TV, revising down a previous toll of 14 victims.

He added that three of the wounded were foreigners. The Dutch foreign ministry said earlier that one of them was a Dutch national.

All the victims were killed inside the building and at least some were the gunman’s fellow students.

Rakusan had said earlier that there was no link between the shooting and “international terrorism” and that the student acted on his own.

Although police said there was no longer any imminent threat, they were still guarding selected sites, including schools, on Friday as a preventive measure and “a signal we are here”.

The government has declared a national day of mourning on Saturday, with flags on official buildings to be flown at half-staff and people asked to observe a minute’s silence at noon.

‘Huge arsenal’

The gunman, previously unknown to the police, had a “huge arsenal of weapons and ammunition”, Police Chief Martin Vondrasek said after the killings on Thursday.

Police had started a search for the student even before the mass shooting after his father was found dead in the village of Hostoun west of Prague.

The gunman “left for Prague saying he wanted to kill himself”, Vondrasek said, declining to confirm whether the gunman had killed his father.

Police had started the search at a Faculty of Arts building where the gunman was expected to show up for a lecture, but he went instead to the faculty’s main building nearby.

Police learned about the shooting at around 1400 GMT and sent a rapid response unit to the scene. Twenty minutes later, the gunman was dead.

Citing an inquiry into the student’s social media activities, Vondrasek said the gunman was inspired by a “similar case that happened in Russia”, without providing further details.

Vondrasek said police believed the same gunman had also killed a young man and his two-month-old daughter in a pram during a walk in a forest on the eastern outskirts of Prague on December 15.

The investigation into those murders, which had shocked Prague, had stalled until evidence found in Hostoun linked the gunman with the crime.

‘Senseless’

The shooting at Charles University, which sits near major tourist sites like the 14th-century Charles Bridge, was the deadliest since the Czech Republic emerged as an independent state in 1993.

“There is no justification for this horrendous act,” Prime Minister Petr Fiala said.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani extended his condolences over the loss of life.

The foreign minister also prayed for the recovery of all the injured.

US President Joe Biden sent his condolences, slamming the “senseless” shooting.

“My heart is with those who lost their lives in today’s senseless shooting in Prague, those injured, and the Czech people,” he wrote on X.

“Our authorities are in touch with Czech law enforcement, and we stand ready to offer additional support if needed.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky were among those also offering condolences.

Though mass gun violence is unusual in the Czech Republic, the nation has been rocked by some instances in recent years.

A 63-year-old man shot seven men and a woman dead in 2015 before killing himself in a restaurant in the southeastern town of Uhersky Brod.

In 2019, a man killed six people in the waiting room of a hospital in the eastern city of Ostrava, with another woman dying days later. The man shot himself dead about three hours after the attack.

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