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Germany: Man drives car at pedestrians

January 1, 2019

A man has driven a car at groups of pedestrians in the cities of Bottrop and Essen, injuring eight, including foreign nationals. Police say there are signs that the driver is mentally ill and holds xenophobic views.

Police car behind cordon at scene of attack
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

A man drove a car into pedestrians in two neighboring German cities overnight to New Year's Day, injuring five people in what police say could be attacks motivated by the xenophobic attitude of the driver.

Shortly after midnight, the 50-year-old man is reported to have driven a silver Mercedes deliberately at one male pedestrian in Bottrop, who managed to avoid being hit. The driver then continued on toward the downtown, where he rammed into a group of people standing next to the street, injuring at least eight, some seriously.

Cordoned-off street in Bottrop
At least four people were injured in the attacksImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kusch

The man also tried to drive into a group of people waiting at a bus stop in the neighboring Ruhr city of Essen, before he was stopped and arrested by police.

According to the police, the victims included a 46-year-old Syrian woman, who was seriously injured, her 48-year-old husband and their 16 and 17-year-old daughters; a 4-year-old boy and his 29-year-old mother from Afghanistan; a 10-year-old Syrian girl; and a 34-year-old German national of Turkish heritage.

In the afternoon following the attack, the State Attorney's Office in Essen requested an arrest warrant for the suspect on multiple counts of attempted murder. A judge granted the request the same evening. 

Canceled anniversary celebration

Herbert Reul, the interior minister of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), in which both cities are situated, said later on Tuesday that the man had tried to drive into yet another group of people in Essen, causing slight injury to one person.

The mayor of Bottrop, Bernd Tischler, said he was "horrified and deeply affected" by the attacks and hoped that those injured would recover quickly.

Tischler said that celebrations for Bottrop's 100th anniversary scheduled for Tuesday had been canceled "in view of the terrible events."

Read more: As coal ends in the Ruhr, a cultural renaissance hits full steam

Anti-foreigner remarks

Police said the man, said to live in Essen, made racist comments after he was arrested. They also said they had received information suggesting that the man was suffering from a mental illness.

State Interior Minister Herbert Reul said the driver had "the clear intention of killing foreigners" and that the incident "had to be taken very seriously." 

He said that intensive investigations were underway, adding that there was "absolutely no tolerance" for violent criminals in NRW, no matter what their persuasion was.

In later remarks to made to regional public broadcaster WDR5, Reul said that at present nothing indicated that the suspect had any ties to right-wing extremist circles, though he said that the ongoing investigation would take time.

Government figures express concern

A spokesperson for the national government in Berlin said that the government condemned "all forms of violence." Germany has no place for extremism and intolerance, "regardless of which side it comes from," Martina Fietz said.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Bild newspaper that the attack in Bottrop made him "very concerned." Seehofer pledged that authorities would pursue the case "resolutely and with severity."

Armin Laschet, state premier of NRW, also spoke out against the attack and said his thoughts were with the injured.

"On this New Year's Day, the resolution for 2019 is clearer than ever: we stand together against right-wing violence," Laschet wrote on Twitter.

Irene Mihalic, spokeswoman for domestic affairs for the Green party in the Bundestag, told German media group RND that although the driver appeared to have a psychiatric history, it was imperative that authorities clarify if the driver acted alone of with others.

"The terrible and probably racist-motivated act must be decisively cleared up," Mihalic said.

But Julia Klöckner, a deputy chairperson in Angela Merkel's conservative party, warned against drawing conclusions too quickly. "One must not immediately accuse a person of feeding an atmosphere of hate towards foreigners, German nationals or anyone else. You need to examine and evaluate the incident in and of itself."

The case in Bottrop and Essen recalls an incident in the city of Münster last April in which a man drove a van into people in a city square, killing four and injuring more than 20. The 48-year-old man then fatally shot himself. Police said the man was mentally ill and had wanted to commit suicide.

Read more: Tokyo: Man deliberately drives van into NYE crowds

tj/ng (dpa, AFP)

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