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The Hague

Panic at a cinema in The Hague as Muslim youths spark fear of attack

They seemed like terrorists, moviegoers said, but it turned out that they were only "annoying teenagers".

Published: May 6, 2019, 7:48 am

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    The behavior of four Muslim teenagers at the Pathé Spuimarkt cinema in The Hague, led to the evacuation of a cinema theatre, according to the Dutch police. But their brash action was not an act of terror, they said. “We must not lose sight of their age,” said a police spokesperson.

    The four were arrested at the scene and two have been fined for not carrying their IDs, police said in a statement. A “stern” conversation was held with the teenagers, but they are not going to be prosecuted.

    A security alert led to the screening room being stormed by police in bullet proof vests, after the four teenagers, aged 14 and 17, created panic on Thursday during the screening of the film Hotel Mumbai, about the jihadist attack on the Taj Mahal hotel in 2008.

    Anthony Maras’s film revisits the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. In 2008, a series of attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, launched by the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, left more than a hundred and sixty people dead. The militants, numbering only ten, had remained in contact with their handler nicknamed “Bull”, who was based in Pakistan and never caught.

    Several visitors had raised the alarm due to an imminent situation because the four had behaved so suspiciously. Several moviegoers had called the emergency number 112. Some 20 to 30 police officers burst into the cinema and forced the public to put their hands on their heads and leave the screening room while police combed the building.

    According to some eyewitness reports, the four had been unduly disruptive during the screening, and they got up and left shortly before the end of the film, just when the attack was due to be shown. They then returned and all sat in different parts of the cinema, sparking a panic.

    A police helicopter was also called in and part of the Spui was closed off. The police would not comment on whether the teenagers were fooling around or had deliberately tried to frighten people, however.

    But they certainly came over as threatening to the audience, the police spokeswoman told the Dutch news outlet AD. “Was their goal to inspire fear or was it provoking? They really made a threatening impression on the visitors,” the police spokesperson noted. But other eyewitnesses told the AD the youngsters had been noisy and irritating but said there was no question of a threatening situation.

    The police noted in their statement that officers have undergone training to deal with incidents of extreme violence. “The aim of the training was to help police and cinema personal work together in stressful situations,” the statement added.

    Ranjit Ramdhan was in the theatre and was very shocked when the officers entered. “The policemen shouted that it was not an exercise and that everyone had to put their hands on their heads. So I spent ten minutes like that.”

    The officers in bullet-proof vests then combed the room from top to bottom and bags were also checked. A large police force was also deployed outside of Pathé.

    According to the police, the large police deployment was justified. “Certainly in the light of these times. It is not for nothing that the cinema-goers got a threatening impression, and then it is up to us to assess that threatening situation.”

    According to the police, the people who had raised the alarm at 112 were not exaggerating. “A very alert response was received. Commendable. The boys really made a threatening impression on the cinema-goers. If people call for this, we don’t take any risks.”

    Before the police was called, an employee had been alerted to the disruptive behaviour of the four. “After receiving a warning, things went well again,” said one attendee. But twenty minutes later the situation had escalated.

    Pathé has not yet responded to the incident. The movie was pulled from cinemas in New Zealand due to the Christchurch mosque shootings on 15 March 2019, with showings suspended until 28 March.

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