Hostage drama in Dutch skyscraper ends with suicide

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The Independent Online

A gunman upset about the quality of wide-screen televisions seized hostages in Amsterdam's tallest building yesterday, then shot himself.

The 59-year-old man from Uithoorn, about nine miles south of Amsterdam, died after shooting himself twice in the head, a Dutch justice ministry official said.

The man, who had a grievance against the Philips electronics company, had taken as many as 18 people hostage at gunpoint in the Rembrandt tower. According to some witnesses, he also claimed to have a bomb.

Philips once had its temporary headquarters in the Rembrandt tower, before moving into a building next door in October last year. It appeared that the hostage-taker had staged his ill-fated demonstration in the wrong building.

The district attorney, Leo de Wit, said last night that the man, whom he described as "mentally confused" but did not name, had died after shooting himself in a lavatory.

"We regret that the man decided to take his life," Mr de Wit told a news conference.

At one stage, he held as many as 18 hostages, Mr de Wit said, while more than 200 people were trapped in their offices. Karim el Jallap, who was near the scene, said: "The guy killed himself. My girlfriend called me on the phone and now I'm waiting for her here."

Dutch public television said it had received a statement from the man in which he said he was resisting "manipulation by sellers of wide-screen television sets" who were guilty of "creative nonsense".

The Rembrandt tower, which dominates the city's eastern skyline, houses a number of major financial firms including Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and ING, the leading Dutch banking group.

During yesterday's drama several windows were plastered with messages written in black ink, including one which read "Kleisterlee lies", apparently referring to the chairman of Philips Electronics, Gerard Kleisterlee. Another said: "We mislead", an apparent take-off on the company's advertising slogan, "We make things better." Banners were first posted on the fifth floor of the building, but some were moved to higher floors.

Police had surrounded the office block after the gunman took several office workers hostage at about 9.30am yesterday. Workers in the building were told to stay inside their offices. Philips stepped up security at its building during the drama, including blocking the entrance.

Ambulances and firefighters were on standby, and trains were diverted around the neighbouring Amstel station as the underground railway station was closed.

Workers inside the building said they were initially worried when they realised it was the six-month anniversary of the 11 September attacks, given that there were a number of US companies and banks with offices in the tower.

"The atmosphere was pretty tense at the beginning," said one office worker, "but when we found out the reason behind this on the internet, we laughed."