The three Dutch special forces soldiers shot in the US city of Indianapolis, one of them fatally, were the victims of a drive-by shooting involving a gang of youths with whom they’d had a brief altercation a short time before, local police have disclosed.
The three – members of an elite commando corps based near the Dutch city of Roosendaal – were in Indiana to take part in urban warfare exercises at the 1,000-acre Muscatatuk Urban Training Centre, 65km away – one of the largest and most sophisticated evaluation battlefields in the world.
The shootings took place at about 3.30am last Saturday outside the Hampton Inn hotel on Maryland Street, where the three soldiers were staying to explore the state capital during a brief break from intensive training with American counterparts and other allies.
However, because the world of special forces ideally never sees the light of day, and because city authorities were not aware they were visiting Indianapolis, it was some time after the attack before police could confirm their identifies and piece together the lead-up to the shooting.
Initially it looked like some sort of gang warfare. People who heard but didn’t see the shooting spoke of long repeated bursts of gunfire. Local TV initially described the incident as “very bizarre”.
What has since emerged is that the Dutch – weapons trained to the highest military standard – were unarmed when they were fired on using an automatic weapon from the backseat of a pick-up truck. All three were seriously injured, one critically.
On Monday morning, Simmie Poetsema (26), who was hit by a single shot to the back of the head, died of his injuries surrounded by family members who had flown from the Netherlands, said Dutch army spokesman Major Mark van de Beek.
The other two commandos have non-life-threatening injuries. One was shot in the thigh.
The killing provoked a frustrated reaction from Dutch defence minister Kajsa Ollongren, who said she was very concerned at the level of gun violence in the US. “We have frequent training for our service personnel in the United States and we really don’t expect this to happen. It’s a matter of great concern. In the Netherlands a shooting like this would be highly unusual. In the US it’s just another weekend night.”
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Ms Ollongren later, and offered his “deepest regret and condolences”.
A 22-year-old local man, Shamar Duncan, was arrested on Wednesday, and charged with one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Police now say video camera footage shows Duncan and his friends were “looking for trouble” and had exchanges with another group before confronting the Dutch. Poetsema attempts to defuse the situation and after some pushing and shoving one of Duncan’s group is knocked to the ground and the two sides go their separate ways. The Americans, however, do a U-turn in their pick-up truck, lights flashing, and open fire outside the visitors’ hotel.
The hearse carrying the dead soldier’s remains was given an escort by members of Indianapolis metropolitan police department as it left a funeral home on Friday for the flight back to the Netherlands. The coffin was to be accompanied on the military flight home by the two injured commandos.