German police stumped by van attack


MÜNSTER, Germany: German investigators were puzzled Sunday morning by the motives of a man who drove a van into a crowd at an open-air restaurant the day before, killing two people before shooting himself.

“So far there are no clues to a possible motive for the act,” said Martin Botzenhardt, senior prosecutor in the northwestern city of Muenster where the attack happened, in a statement issued in the early hours.

“We are pressing hard on our investigation into all possible avenues.”

Late Saturday, authorities were near-certain that there was no Islamist connection to the violence in the historic center of Muenster as had initially been feared.

The two people killed were a 51-year-old woman and a 65-year-old man, both from northern Germany.

A body bag on a stretcher is being loaded into a van as investigators work at the square where a man rammed his car into a crowd killing two and injuring several others the night before in Muenster, western Germany on April 7, 2018. AFP PHOTO

As well as the dead, police said 20 were injured—six of them seriously—amid the broken and upturned tables and chairs seen strewn across the pavement in images of the scene.

Police had to wait for a bomb disposal team to clear the vehicle used in the attack after noticing suspect wires inside.

In the end, they found only the weapon used by the 48-year-old driver to kill himself, a blank-firing pistol and some powerful fireworks.

A search of the man’s Muenster apartment late Saturday turned up more fireworks and a deactivated AK47 assault rifle.

Police have appealed to the public for information about the attack, setting up a website where people can upload photos or videos.

“There was a bang and then screaming. The police arrived and got everyone out of here,” an employee of the restaurant hit by the terrace told NTV.

“There were a lot of people screaming. I’m angry—it’s cowardly to do something like this.”

Armed police cordoned off a wide area around the scene of the attack, urging residents to avoid the city center to allow investigators to get to work amid initial fears the country had suffered another extremist assault.

Germany has been on especially high alert for jihadist attacks after several claimed by the Islamic State group.

But in the Saturday afternoon attack, inflicted as locals and tourists enjoyed a sunny spring day, there was “no indication at the moment that there is any Islamist connection,” said North Rhine-Westphalia state interior minister Herbert Reul.

Media reports said the driver, identified only as Jens R., had a history of mental health problems.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “deeply shaken” by the incident and “everything possible will be done to determine what was behind this act and to help the victims.”



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