Dutch authorities have released few details about the bizarre case of 19-year-old Tarik Zahzah’s attack on the main news studio of television station NOS on Thursday. To get the obvious question out of the way first, the police say there is no evidence that Zahzah, who is half-Egyptian, acted on behalf of organized terrorism.
The authorities always say that on the day after a “lone wolf” incident, of course, but eyewitnesses say Zahzah claimed to be a member of a hacker collective employed by the Dutch intelligence service, who wanted to seize control of the nightly news broadcast so he could deliver some sort of manifesto.
He did not get the opportunity to do so, because when he barged into the station with a gun, a quick-thinking security guard led him into an empty studio, where he paced around for a while until the police arrived and took him into custody. The moment of his arrest was captured on studio cameras:
Fortunately, no one was injured during the ordeal. Several international news services have reported that the silenced pistol Zahzah carried was fake. (It looks like he wanted to costume himself as a Hollywood-style secret agent.) According to Dutch News, Zahzah also threatened station security with a letter in which he claimed “98 hackers are poised to launch a cyber attack and that eight bombs containing radioactive material have been placed around the country.”
There does not seem to have been any substance behind these threats. In fact, actual “hactivists” were sufficiently annoyed to tear his Facebook page to pieces, following his arrest. The TV studio was swept for explosives by police after the intruder’s arrest, but no bombs were found. Even if his weapon was fake and his threats were hollow, he still faces charges of kidnapping, possession of a firearm, and making threats with a weapon, according to Euro News.
The closest Zahzah came to revealing the nature of his statement was a declaration that “things are going to be said… those are very large world affairs… we were hired by the security service, where we have heard things which call society into question” caught on camera as he paced around the empty studio. The BBC quotes NOS director Jan de Jong saying Zahzah had a list of demands, and wanted ten minutes of airtime to deliver them.
The UK Independent summarizes what little is known about Tarik Zahzah, based on unconfirmed reports from Dutch media: he’s a chemistry student at the Delft University of Technology, with a Dutch mother and Egyptian father. He is said to have been living in Pijnacker, near the Hague, with his mother and stepfather following the divorce of his parents. One of his schoolmates gave an interview in which he said Zahzah was “preoccupied with conspiracy theories about Freemasonry and the New World Order.” (One suspects he also has more than a passing familiarity with Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series, which features a heroic hacker working with a reporter to uncover dark secrets about the government.) Dutch News adds that his classmates haven’t seen him for around four weeks.
NOS director Jan de Jong told the broadcaster that the headquarters had beefed up security in the aftermath of the attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris in which 12 people were killed.
He said it was unclear how the man got through tight security in the building in the central Dutch town of Hilversum, and into the editorial offices.
The media park in Hilversum, home to many Dutch broadcasters, has been tightly guarded for years, since populist Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was gunned down in a car park there in 2002.
While the broadcaster was off air, a screen on the NOS1 channel read ‘Please be patient’ in Dutch.
Its main news channel main displayed a message that read, ‘In connection with circumstances, no broadcast is available at this time.’
All staff were evacuated from the building as the situation unfolded and remained outside nearly two hours later as police searched the building. NOS resumed broadcasting from a studio in The Hague.
That’s an impressive level of disruption for a 19-year-old student dressed like John Travolta from “Pulp Fiction” and packing a fake gun, plus a note filled with wild threats about cyber-terrorism and dirty bombs.