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article imageAmsterdam community reels as beloved son shot dead

By Jan HENNOP (AFP)     Feb 1, 2018 in World

An Amsterdam working-class area is in mourning after a teenager known for his volunteer work was shot dead in "cold blood", the latest victim of street violence in the soft-drug tolerant city.

More than 1,000 people packed Amsterdam's Nasr Mosque for the funeral of 17-year-old Mohammed Bouchikhi on Wednesday with mourners spilling into the streets, praying in driving rain.

It was shortly after 7:00pm last Friday, that two masked gunmen burst through the doors at a community centre in the Wittenburg neighbourhood, where Bouchikhi was giving children as young as six a cookery lesson.

Armed with at least one automatic rifle, the men fired some 10 shots at a man later identified only as "Gianni L." in an apparent assassination bid.

The gunmen fled, leaving behind a wounded Gianni L. and an injured woman.

But caught in the crossfire was Bouchikhi, shot in the lower spine and left arm, said his uncle, Najem Oulad Ali.

He died shortly aftwards in front of the shocked children at the centre within walking distance of the red light district, where legal prostitution and cannabis shops daily draw thousands of curious tourists.

"They shot him down in cold blood. It's incomprehensible," an emotional Oulad Ali told AFP, at the funeral.

- Gun violence -

Security has been beefed up in the area by Amsterdam police, who have launched a massive probe into the shooting.

But they cautioned it was too early to link the latest murder to earlier incidents involving Amsterdam's so-called "Mocro-mafia" gang wars.

"At this stage it would be dangerous to speculate and we're not going to," Amsterdam police spokesman Leo Dortland told AFP.

Far from tourists' eyes, the Dutch capital has witnessed several assassinations in recent years as rival gangs vie for control of the lucrative drug trade.

The most gruesome was in 2016 when the severed head of a known gang member was found outside a shisha lounge.

The gangs consist mainly of Dutch citizens of Moroccan or Surinamese descent.

Wittenburg residents do not believe the latest shooting was linked to gang wars. Instead they think it was a street feud which took a violent turn, possibly over drugs or money.

But the shooting has raised red-flags over how easily weapons -- including AK-47 assault rifles -- are available, media reports said.

"The fact that Mohammed's murderers could walk into a community centre full of children and open fire with an automatic rifle is of huge concern to us," Bouchikhi's relative Oulad Ali said.

- Living in fear -

"Mohammed's death is a massive shock. I have a nine-year-old girl and now I can't even send her to our own community centre across the road," said one resident, asking not to be named.

"There is real fear here," she added.

Bouchikhi's body was Thursday being flown out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to Morocco, where he has family roots and where he will be buried.

"The violence has to stop," insisted Reinier van Dantzig, chairman of Amsterdam's ruling progressive D66 political party.

"There is a worrying increase in the use of automatic weapons in liquidations," he told AFP.

Nico Kras, who runs a fish food stall which the teenager often visited, described Bouchikhi -- who in 2015 travelled to France to help refugees at a camp in Calais -- as "a good kid".

"Whether it had to do with drugs, gangs or money, it doesn't matter. One of our favourite and much-loved sons was caught in the middle," said Kras.

Erik Heijdelberg, who runs an Amsterdam-based youth centre, blamed an explosion in tourism numbers, saying that was impacting the so-called "drugs economy".

This in turn has proved a temptation for relatively poor youngsters living in areas such as Wittenburg.

"These youngsters live within three minutes by scooter from the city centre, known for its drug tourism -- an enormous market for drugs... (including) cocaine and pills."

"That's the background for a conflict that's sure to escalate," he wrote in Amsterdam's daily Het Parool.

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